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Jones's Late Goal Helps U.S. to Tie

The next time the Americans see Panama will be at Washington's RFK Stadium on Oct. 13. Between now and then, however, they will have to play El Salvador in San Salvador on Oct. 9, their final road game during this four-team group.

Of all the places that the United States has ventured for World Cup qualifiers, this venue might've been the most primitive. It looked like a decrepit municipal stadium built 50 years ago, nestled between a horse track and the Roberto Duran Gymnasium and lacking a scoreboard. Before being renamed for Fernandez, a former star player who was killed in an auto accident in 1993, it was called the "national stadium."

U.S. players celebrate after Cobi Jones strikes during injury time Wednesday night to give the Americans a 1-1 tie with Panama. (AP)

Baseball is more popular than soccer in Panama -- Hall of Famer Rod Carew and Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera are among the most famous exports -- but with the national soccer team coming off a 2-1 upset at Jamaica last weekend and the United States, a World Cup quarterfinalist two years ago, visiting for the first time ever, this match received extensive pregame coverage in the newspapers and on local television.

The headline in La Prensa proclaimed, "Con Respeto Pero Sin Miedo" -- With Respect but Without Fear. El Panama America splashed "Respeto en Casa!" (Respect in the House) and devoted four pages of World Cup qualifying previews from the North and Central America and Caribbean region (CONCACAF).

On Tuesday night, a local radio station, 97.1 FM Caliente, parked speakers the size of a convenience store across bustling Avenida Balboa from the U.S. team hotel on the edge of Panama Bay. The amplified music and deejays shook the windows to the very top of the high-rise building, typical disruptions before U.S. road qualifiers. Crowds of fans began to gather, mostly out of curiosity, but before long, the police arrived and shut down the party.

The rest of the evening was peaceful for the U.S. team, which had been unable to practice because of heavy rain (the well-equipped hotel gym was a decent alternative).

Because this match was being played on a weeknight and another rainstorm began late in the afternoon, organizers weren't expecting to fill the 20,000-seat stadium. But fans began gathering several hours before kickoff, with almost everyone dressed in red.

For complete World Cup qualifying results, see D8.


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