There's drama. Then there's what happened in Panama on Tuesday night. And Graham Zusi was square in the middle of the mania.
Entering stoppage time on the final match date of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, the fates of Mexico and Panama's World Cup dreams hung in the balance. Panama clung to a 2-1 lead at home over the U.S., needing to survive three more minutes against the region's top team to secure fourth place in The Hex and it's prize in the form of a World Cup playoff with New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Mexico showed no signs of overcoming a 2-1 deficit on the road in Costa Rica which -- with every tick of the clock -- threatened to send El Tri crashing out of World Cup qualification for the first time in more than 30 years.
Queue the frenzy. Brad Davis sends in a cross from the left flank and 5'10" playmaker turned aerial attacker Graham Zusi stuns the Panamians with a "towering header" from eight yards out to equalize. Panama's route to their first World Cup in the nation's history denied in devastating fashion and Mexico given the unlikeliest of lifelines by their most hated rivals.
In Zusi's only previous trip to Panama, you'll remember, he scored the game-winning goal in the United States 1-0 victory at Estadio Rommel Fernandez last year. However, that ninth minute goal in a tranquil friendly pales in comparison to Tuesday when he hammered home the first headed goal of his professional career.
Zusi's goal -- his second in as many games after netting the match-winner in front of his home crowd on Friday at Sporting Park and his third in a U.S. MNT uniform -- was promptly followed just over one minute later by Aron Johannsson's game-winner. Final score: USA 3, Panama 2. Salt poured over the wounded home side and the U.S. comeback completed to claim their 16th win of 2013, most ever by the Yanks in a calendar year.
Zusi now has 18 caps for the red, white and blue, including appearances in 12 of the last 13 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. He returns to Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, garnering all the attention in...Mexico.