For the second time in the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the United States national team stole a point on the road, a last-gasp strike from Cobi Jones giving the USA a 1-1 draw with Panama.
Panama dominated the match after the break on a waterlogged field and looked primed to take all three points and first place in the Group 1 standings after Roberto Brown sent the home fans into a frenzy with a 71st minute goal. But second half substitute Jones had other ideas and kept the U.S. atop the group when he hooked the ball into the back of the net after a messy scramble in the box two minutes deep into stoppage time.
It was truly a game of two halves at Estadio Rommel Fernandez, the U.S. having the better of play in the opening 45 minutes and the home side the far superior squad in the second.
The first good chance came early for the USA from a dead-ball situation on the right side of the Panama box. Former MetroStars striker Clint Mathis took a free kick from the top right corner and his hard drive skipped cross the face of goal and received a slight touch by former Chicago Fire man Carlos Bocanegra before trickling just wide of the post.
Bocanegra had a second chance to open the scoring on 21 minutes, but he was caught in two minds as the ball approached in the air and he was unable to get a touch past charging Panamanian 'keeper Donaldo Gonzalez.
Just minutes before the break Panama came within inches of taking the lead. Ricardo Phillips, who replaced Alberto Zapata late in the half, passed to Engin Mitre, who made a nice move to elude a challenge from Mathis before curling a shot that narrowly missed the target outside the left post.
Panama showed their intentions from the outset after the break. Medina had a second go from far out that skidded past the right post, then shortly thereafter Phillips thought he was in alone on goal, but the referee's assistant was flagging for offside to end the play.
The USA was on the back foot for almost the entire second half and manager Bruce Arena looked to counter that by adding Los Angeles Galaxy veteran Cobi Jones to the side.
At the hour mark Panama had a fantastic chance to grab a one-goal advantage. Defender Carlos Rivera ventured forward for a corner kick, sneaking in unmarked at the back post. However, he couldn't keep his header down and it sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
A pair of long shots again threatened Keller's goal, one of which hit the top of the crossbar off the foot of Phillips. But it was Brown who would put the Panama side on top just minutes later.
Phillips was again the danger man, as he broke in alone against Keller on the right side of the box. Keller did well to get his body on the initial shot, but Phillips recovered to hammer a second shot off the right post, just past a late-arriving Eddie Pope, sending the ball into the goalmouth for Brown to poke home.
Panama kept pushing forward and nearly widened the gap on several occasions near the end of the match. Jorge Dely Valdes missed a clear header in the box in the 86th minute and Brown came close to doubling up in the 87th minute, only another Keller save keeping the margin at 1-0.
Jones made Arena look like a genius seconds before the final whistle when he cleaned up a mess in the Panama penalty area, depositing the ball into the net after a scramble in the area that may have left Jones in an offside position before making his finish.
However, the goal stood and the U.S. escaped with a huge point on the road to stay atop the Group 1 standings with five points from their three matches, one ahead of Panama and Jamaica, which claimed a huge 3-0 victory away to El Salvador.
The USA will play their final semifinal round away match in their next contest, facing El Salvador on Oct. 9 in San Salvador. Panama will play host to Jamaica the following day.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Soccer or its clubs.