Something strange happened on Tuesday night. I, a staunch supporter of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, was hoping that they would lose.
Having already punched their ticket as the top team out of CONCACAF for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the USMNT had absolutely nothing to play for entering its final World Cup qualifier in Panama. Win, lose or draw, nothing was going to change for the Stars and Stripes – but their result would help decide the fate of their most bitter rival, Mexico, whose World Cup aspirations were still on the line heading into the last qualifying match.
So when Panama took a 2-1 lead over the U.S. in the 83rd minute, I couldn’t help but let out a little grin. With Mexico trailing – and struggling – 2-1 at Costa Rica at the exact same point in their match, it was Panama who would live to see another day and Mexico who would be officially eliminated from World Cup contention, if the scores stood for about 10 more minutes of play.
Here I thought I would never see the day where Mexico would be knocked out in World Cup qualifying, but it was happening; it was actually happening. A nation known for its soccer possibly more than anything else was going to be on the couch next summer, watching the biggest tournament on the planet. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was witnessing. Not once in my 20-year lifetime did I ever imagine El Tri missing out on the World Cup.
But within those last 10 minutes or so, more high-drama occurred, and Mexico survived. It wasn’t by Mexico’s own doing, though. Yes, the USMNT, unfathomably, saved Mexico.
In the second minute of stoppage time, the U.S.’s Graham Zusi leveled the score at 2-2 on a header off a Brad Davis cross. Panama, barring an even more miraculous finish, was now out, and Mexico was in. Then to rub salt in the wound, the USMNT added a second goal in the third and final minute of stoppage time to give them an emphatic 3-2 win.
Now, normally I would’ve been ecstatic about seeing a comeback like that from my favorite national team, but not this time. I know I can speak for a lot of USMNT fans when I say that was probably the most bitter-feeling win in the team’s history.
But maybe an hour or so later, when I finally took a deep breath after witnessing what took place, I came to realize that no matter how much I dislike Mexico and how heartbroken I felt for Panama to go out like that, it was all for the best. Because despite how undeserving Mexico is for playing so terribly in the final round of qualification for a team of their caliber, the World Cup needs them.
Panama, bless their hearts, will never garner the appeal that Mexico brings to the international level. Sure, Panama making their first-ever World Cup would’ve been a nice story, but people across the globe don’t care to see them; they want to see Mexico.
El Tri, despite their recent struggles, are more fun to watch than Panama will ever be, and frankly, they will actually put up a decent fight against the world’s best. After all, Mexico has advanced to the knockout stages in each of the past five World Cups – a task that is never easy. No disrespect to Panama, but there’s no scenario where they would have been able to do that.
Yes, Mexico still needs to defeat New Zealand in a two-leg, home-and-home playoff next month to officially qualify, but I have no doubt they will get the job done against less-than-stellar opposition. After everything that’s taken place with Mexico over the past year, they will still get to live the dream in Brazil in next summer, and, it pains me to say this, but rightfully so.
De nada, Mexico.