One of the greatest sporting dramas in recent memory unfolded across North America on Tuesday night as the United States men's national team scored two late goals in Panama City to save the 2014 FIFA World Cup hopes of their bitter rival, Mexico.
In the process of saving Mexico's bacon, the Yanks eliminated a determined Panama side, who were left heartbroken and reduced to tears.
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann used his tactical acumen to put fans on a roller-coaster ride of emotions through the last few minutes of the hexagonal round.
With his team struggling to find any pace and rhythm in the first half, Klinsmann decided to shake things up a bit in the 56th minute by bringing on Brad Davis for Brad Evans.
The substitution made zero sense to those watching at home as Davis moved on to the left wing and natural winger Alejandro Bedoya moved to right-back to replace Evans:
As Davis entered the fray, he gave the Americans a new sense of width and a powerful kick that would eventually derail the hopes and dreams of a Central American nation.
Just six minutes later, Klinsmann opted to bring on Aron Johannsson for Mix Diskerud. This move allowed Johannsson to play in a more central role behind starting forward and former club teammate Jozy Altidore.
The duo only received 15 minutes to play alongside each other, but during that span, the Americans scored their first of three goals on the night.
Davis' deadly left foot sent in a corner kick to the penalty area in the 64th minute, and as Michael Orozco Fiscal's head connected to the cross, the drama began to run rampant through CONCACAF:
After Altidore was removed in the 77th minute for Terrence Boyd, Johannsson was able to thrive in his role up front as the primary target.
Just moments before Panama took the lead through a substitute of their own, Luis Tejada, Johannsson delivered an ambitious attempt on goal from the left edge of the penalty area.
The former Iceland U-21 international sent in an off-target shot that just sailed off to the right of the goal in the 83rd minute. It showed the supreme level of confidence that the AZ Alkmaar forward is playing with at the moment, as he took a chance that Altidore probably would not have.
After Panama took the lead in the 85th minute, both Mexico and Panama's fates seemed to be sealed until Davis decided to march forward in the waning seconds of the match to set up an American attack that literally no one saw coming.
As his cross swooped in to find the head of Graham Zusi, Davis instantly became a part of one of the most memorable moments in CONCACAF history:
With a sense of utter heartbreak roaming about in the Panamanian squad, Johannsson delivered the knockout punch just a minute later with a strike that steamed into the bottom left corner of the net past Panama keeper Jaime Penedo.
The goal was the first as a United States international for Johannsson, and it will surely not be his last:
By inserting Davis and Johannsson into a lineup that craved creativity in the first half, Klinsmann was able to keep loads of pressure on the high-strung Panamanian side, and when it mattered the most, the subs delivered the knockout blow.
Much of the same happened on Friday against Jamaica as Zusi and Edgar Castillo came on as substitutes and changed the complexion of that match.
If Klinsmann can continue to use his substitutes in this fashion, he will be able to make his squad stronger contenders as the World Cup in Brazil approaches.
As we have learned from the last two matches, substitutes can play a massive role when the starters fail to perform.
If he is presented with the same scenario that he has been in over the last week in Brazil, expect Klinsmann to continue to make bold tactical decisions to benefit the play of his squad:
The United States needed a manager that made sensible substitutions at the right time and one who was not afraid to take risks with his side when they are behind.
That is exactly what Klinsmann did throughout the Hex, and with his final key substitutions, he potentially changed the course of World Cup history by letting Mexico live another day and advance to a playoff against New Zealand.
Do you think Jurgen Klinsmann's substitutions changed the course of the match?
Comment below or leave me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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