Sporting KC

Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi now a hero in Mexico

Updated: 2013-10-17T17:35:06Z

By TODD ENGLE

Special to The Star

Graham Zusi knew the very instant he scored the equalizer in the 92nd minute of the U.S. national team’s 3-2 victory over Panama on Tuesday that he broke Panamanian hearts all over the world.

“As soon as that ball went in, the stadium went absolutely quiet,” Zusi, a Sporting Kansas City and U.S. midfielder, said Wednesday in a teleconference. “It was kind of an eerie feeling.”

Panama was moments away from the win it needed to keep the dream alive of its first World Cup berth ever.

What Zusi didn’t know until later is what that goal meant to archrival Mexico.

Mexico trailed and eventually lost 2-1 to Costa Rica and would have missed its first World Cup since 1990 without Zusi’s goal.

The goal was celebrated on live national television in Mexico and heralded in newspapers across the country Wednesday.

“The way they celebrated that goal, it gave me chills. To see the reaction from them on an American goal and them to celebrate it like it’s one of their own, it’s a pretty special feeling,” Zusi said.

Some have even dubbed it the “Billion Dollar Goal,” referring to the estimated economic impact of Mexico missing the World Cup.

Mexico still has to win a home-and-home playoff with New Zealand to qualify. In the meantime, Zusi and his American teammates are heroes.

“I’ve gotten hundreds of nice messages from Mexican supporters through Twitter, and it’s pretty funny how this has all kind of panned out,” Zusi said. “Mexico is such a rival for us, to see them thankful of the U.S. team and the players, its fun.”

Zusi now has three goals in 18 appearances for the U.S., including the game-winning goal against Jamaica on Oct. 11 at Sporting Park.

Tuesday’s match against Panama didn’t mean anything for the U.S., as it had already secured its World Cup berth.

“Nowhere in our minds were we thinking about other teams in the hex and what circumstances for them to get through were. We were out there to get a result, to get a win, and we were going to do whatever it took to do that,” Zusi said.

One Spanish-speaking reporter asked Zusi his thoughts about a statue honoring the goal being erected near the entrance of Azteca Stadium, home of the Mexican national team.

Zusi chuckled at the thought.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” Zusi said. “That would be pretty funny if it did happen. I think people are very excited for this moment, but I don’t expect there to be a monument outside the stadium.”

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