Hexagonal: What's at stake for USA in June

The USA plays two games in four days -- Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids, and Mexico on Sunday night at Azteca Stadium. Mexico-USA is the game everyone is talking about, but the T&T match is the must-win match.

Here's how things look going into the Hexagonal's June dates:

Current Hexagonal Standings:
10 Mexico 3-1-0 5/1
7 Costa Rica 2-1-1 7/3
5 Panama 1-2-1 2/2
4 USA 1-1-2 8/7
4 Honduras 1-1-2 4/9
3 Trin. & Tobago 1-0-3 2/6

The four points are the fewest the USA has ever had in the Hexagonal after four games:

USA after 4 games:
1997: 1-2-1 (5)
3-1-0 (10)
3-0-1 (9)
2-2-0 (8)
2-1-1 (7)
2017: 1-1-2 (4)

The USA, currently in fourth place one point behind Panama, has finished in the top three of the Hexagonal and qualified directly for the World Cup every time by a margin of three points or higher.

USA margin:
1997: 2nd/5 pts.
2001: 3rd/3 pts.
2005: 1st/9 pts.
2009: 1st/4 pts.
2013: 1st/11 pts.
2017: 4th/-1 pt. (after 4 games)

If the USA is to qualify, it likely can't drop any more points at home, making a win over T&T essential. It has never dropped in an entire cycle more than the three points at home it dropped when it opened the 2016-17 Hexagonal with a 2-1 loss to Mexico.

USA at home:
1997: 3-2-0
2001: 4-0-1
2005: 5-0-0
2009: 4-1-0
2013: 5-0-0
2017: 1-0-1 (after 2 games)

In order, these are the three ways the USA will qualify for Russia 2018, each with an increasing level of suspense:

1. Clinch a berth in the top three before Match 10;
2. Clinch on Matchday 10, which might entail the USA getting a result at Trinidad & Tobago (shades of 1989?) or Mexico getting a result at Honduras (returning the favor to the USA for its 3-2 win over Panama in 2013?) or both.
3. Finish fourth and win the intercontinental playoff against Asia's No. 5 team.

The USA's strategy for the rest of the Hexagonal is straightforward:

1. Win at home and steal as many points on the road as possible.
2. Have Mexico and Costa Rica, who are first and second, beat up on the USA's rivals for third place, in order Panama, Honduras and T&T.
3. Have Panama, Honduras and T&T drop points -- i.e. tie -- when they meet.

With that in mind, the game the USA will be closely following in June will be Panama-Honduras  next Tuesday in Panama City, and it will be rooting for a tie.

If the USA wins at home (T&T and Costa Rica) and loses on the road (Mexico and Honduras) over the next four matchdays, a Panama-Honduras draw would likely put the USA in position to clinch with a win against Panama on Oct. 9 in Orlando.

Panama would need a result at Costa Rica or Mexico to be even or ahead of the USA before Matchday 9 and prevent the USA from clinching with a win.

The USA would also pull away from Honduras in this scenario as long as the Catrachos didn't win at Mexico or Costa Rica or tied both away games, all tall orders.

Hexagonal Schedule:
June 8

USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Costa Rica vs. Panama
Mexico vs. Honduras
June 11
Mexico vs. USA
June 13

Panama vs. Honduras
Costa Rica vs. Trinidad & Tobago
September 1

USA vs. Costa Rica
Mexico vs. Panama
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Honduras
September 5

Honduras vs. USA
Panama vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Costa Rica vs. Mexico
October 6
USA vs. Panama
Costa Rica vs. Honduras
Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago
*October 10

Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA
Panama vs. Costa Rica
Honduras vs. Mexico
*Simultaneous kickoff.
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