latest result: Tuesday's 2-2 tie between Panama and Honduras in Panama City, decided on Roman Torres' tying goal for Panama in the 90th minute.
PTS TEAM W-T-L +/-
14 Mexico 4-2-0 9/2
11 Costa Rica 2-2-1 9/4
8 USA 2-2-2 11/8
7 Panama 1-4-1 4/4
5 Honduras 1-2-3 6/14
3 Trin. & Tobago 1-0-5 3/10
The USA is the three-time defending Hexagonal champion, but that matters little now. All that is important is that if the USA finishes in the top three, it will qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Fourth place will do but only in a pinch.
To put in perspective what the USA has done, it was last in the Hexagonal after the 2-1 loss to Mexico and 4-0 loss to Costa Rica that got Jurgen Klinsmann fired and already four points out of the top three. Since then, the USA is unbeaten with two wins and two ties and made up five points in four game on Panama, winless with three ties and a loss, to claim third place by one point over Panama and three points over Honduras.
(The other good news on Tuesday was Costa Rica's 2-1 win over last-place Trinidad & Tobago that all but ends the Soca Warriors' qualifying hopes.)
The best-case scenario is that the USA clinches on Matchday 9. It has never had to wait for the final day of the Hex to clinch and it won't want to travel to Trinidad & Tobago, site of the most famous U.S. qualifying game, the 1-0 win that sent the USA to the 1990 World Cup, in search of a result on Oct. 10
The USA also won't want to gamble on qualifying via an intercontinental playoff, where potential opponents include Japan or Australia. (For political intrigue, another potential opponent -- a longer shot -- is Syria).
The bottom line is that the USA has dug itself out of the big hole in which it was after two games and qualifying for the World Cup has become straightforward.
All that the USA has to do is win its last two games at home and it will likely qualify, meaning it won't have to worry about getting a result against Honduras in San Pedro Sula, one of the most difficult venues in Concacaf, on Matchday 8 or against Trinidad & Tobago on Matchday 10.
Here's how ...
1. USA vis-à-vis Panama. The USA will finish ahead of Panama with home wins against Costa Rica and Panama and a Panama loss to Mexico at Azteca, setting up the Panama game on Oct. 6 in Orlando and Matchday 9 as potentially the big day. (It won't matter if the USA loses at Honduras and the T&T game will become moot.)
WHAT MATTERED: The point the USA picked up on Sunday with its 1-1 tie at Mexico became invaluable to keep the USA ahead of Panama after the Canaleros picked up a point at Costa Rica last Thursday.
1. USA vis-à-vis Honduras. The USA will all but mathematically be assured of finishing ahead of Honduras with home wins against Costa Rica and Panama unless the Catrachos not only beat the USA but they also take seven of nine points from their home game against Mexico and away games against Trinidad & Tobago -- a very tall order.
WHAT MATTERED: The USA's 6-0 win over Honduras in San Jose not only wiped out its minus-5 goal difference from the opening losses to Mexico and Costa Rica but gave it a huge edge on Honduras, currently at 11 goals (USA +3 vs. Honduras -8).
The USA might not clinch third place ahead of Honduras after Matchday 9, but it might be all but mathematically impossible to lose out to the Catrachos, even if it loses at T&T on Matchday 10, because of its far superior goal difference.
USA Schedule, 8 points (GD: 12-9)
Sept. 1: Costa Rica
Sept. 5: at Honduras
Oct. 6: Panama
Oct. 10: at Trinidad & Tobago
Panama Schedule, 7 points (GD: 4-4)
Sept. 1: at Mexico
Sept. 5: Trinidad & Tobago
Oct. 6: at USA
Oct. 10: Costa Rica
Honduras Schedule, 5 points (GD: 6-14)
Sept. 1: at Trinidad & Tobago
Sept. 5: USA
Oct. 6: at Costa Rica
Oct. 10: Mexico