Hexagonal: What will it take for USA to qualify?

The USA's chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup took a hit when it lost to Costa Rica, 2-0, on Friday. A sweep of its two remaining home games would have all but assured the USA finished no worse than third in the Hexagonal. Now?

The USA is in a fight with Honduras and Panama for third place and fourth place in the Hexagonal. The third-place team qualifies automatically to the World Cup. The fourth-place team must face an Asian playoff winner (to be determined in October) in a playoff in November. The fifth-place team is eliminated.

Last-place Trinidad & Tobago isn't eliminated but it would take an unlikely turnaround -- the Soca Warriors have lost six of seven games -- to move into the contention.



Fight for third place:
PTS TEAM W-T-L +/- (GD)
8 (3) USA 2-2-3 11/10 (+1)
8 (4) Honduras 2-2-3 8/15 (-7)
7 (5) Panama 1-4-2 4/5 (-1)

A sweep of its last three games or two wins and a tie in all likelihood will be enough to send the USA to the World Cup as the third-place team. After that, it starts getting complicated.

A few keys to what lies ahead ...

Win at Honduras would get USA back to even. The USA would again be in the driver's seat with a win at Honduras on Tuesday. A couple of scenarios exist by which it would clinch third place as soon as Matchday 9 on Oct. 6 but they involve beating Honduras in San Pedro Sula.

Everything is likely to play for at T&T. Wins over Honduras and Panama would also likely be enough to compensate for a loss at Trinidad & Tobago in the final game but it underscores the point: the loss to Costa Rica will now likely require the USA to head to Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 10 without having secured its ticket to Russia.

Ace in the hole: goal difference. The USA could be eliminated with two wins in its last three games but that would require it to win its two road games and lose its one home game and then lose out to Honduras for fourth place on goal difference. That won't happen. A key factor in the USA's favor remains its favorable goal difference -- FIFA's first tiebreaker -- over Honduras: a margin of eight goals accumulated thanks to its 6-0 win over the Catrachos in March.

'They owe us one, don't they?'
With less than seven points, the USA will start to need help from other teams. Honduras closes out the Hexagonal at home on Oct. 10 against Mexico. The USA could still finish third ahead of Honduras even if it lost on Tuesday but it would need for Mexico to beat Honduras, returning the favor for the USA's late rally four years ago at Panama that saved Mexico, then on the brink of elimination. Noting the impending battle for third place after Friday's loss to Costa Rica, U.S. coach Bruce Arena said of Mexico, "They owe us one, don't they?"



There's big difference between third and fourth. The difference between finishing third and fourth in the Hexagonal is the difference between qualifying in October and having November to play two friendly games to prepare for the World Cup and having to play two more qualifiers -- one at home and one in Asia -- in November and dealing with the complications of the MLS schedule (some players will be in the playoffs, others will have been finished for almost three weeks).

Go for all the marbles? Arena could find himself in the final game at Trinidad & Tobago, having to decide whether to go for all the marbles. If the USA is tied late in the game, it could be in a situation where it would have to settle for fourth place with a tie or it could go for a win to clinch third place but risk being eliminated if it conceded a goal and lost.

Remaining games:
USA: HON (a), PAN (h), at TRI (a).
HON: USA (h), CRC (a), MEX (h).
PAN: TRI (h), USA (a), CRC (h).

Some qualifying scenarios:
(U.S. results in order of games)
WWW --> USA: 17 points
HON max: 14 points
PAN max: 13 points
-- USA takes 3rd place

WWT --> 15 points
HON max: 14 points
PAN max: 13 points
-- USA takes 3rd place

WTW --> 15 points
HON max: 14 points
PAN max: 14 points
-- USA takes 3rd place

TWW --> 15 points
HON max: 15 points
PAN max: 13 points
-- USA takes 3rd place, beats HON on GD
-- USA takes 3rd place, if HON doesn't sweep CRC & MEX
-- USA takes 4th place, loses to HON on GD

WWL --> 14 points
HON max: 14 points
PAN max: 13 points
-- USA takes 3rd place, beats HON on GD
-- USA takes 3rd place if HON doesn't sweep CRC & MEX
-- USA takes 4th place, loses to HON on GD

WLW --> 14 points
HON max: 14 points
PAN max: 16 points
-- USA takes 3rd place, (1) beats HON on GD and (2) PAN on GD
-- USA takes 3rd place, (1) beats HON on GD and (2) PAN takes 3 or less points vs. TRI & CRC
-- USA takes 4th place, beats HON on GD
-- USA takes 4th place, beats PAN on GD or PAN takes 3 or less points vs. TRI & CRC
-- USA eliminated

LWW --> 14 points
HON max: 17 points
PAN max: 13 points
-- USA takes 3rd, beats HON on GD if HON takes 3 pts vs. CRC & MEX
-- USA takes 3rd, beats HON if HON takes less than 3 points vs. CRC & MEX
-- USA takes 4th place, loses to HON if HON takes 4 or 6 pts. vs. CRC & MEX
-- USA takes 4th place, loses to HON on GD if HON takes 3 pts. vs. CRC & MEX

TWT --> 13 points
HON max: 15 points
PAN max: 13 points
-- USA takes 3rd, (1) beats HON on GD if HON takes 4 pts. vs. CRC & MEX or HON takes less than 4 points vs. CRC & MEX and (2) beats PAN on GD or beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats HON on GD if HON takes 4 pts. vs. CRC & MEX or HON takes less than 4 points vs. CRC & MEX but (2) loses to PAN on GD.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats PAN on GD or beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC but (2) loses to HON if it sweeps CRC & MEX or loses to HON on GD if HON takes 4 pts. vs. CRC & MEX.
-- USA eliminated.

TTW --> 13 points
HON max: 15 points
PAN max: 14 points
-- USA takes 3rd, (1) beats HON on GD if HON takes 4 pts. vs. CRC & MEX or HON takes less than 3 points vs. CRC & MEX and (2) beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats HON on GD if HON takes 4 pts. vs. CRC & MEX or HON takes less than 3 points vs. CRC & MEX but (2) loses to PAN if PAN sweeps TRI & CRC.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC but (2) loses to HON if HON sweeps CRC & MEX or loses to HON on GD if HON  takes 4 pts. vs. CRC & MEX.
-- USA eliminated.

WTT --> 13 points
HON max: 14 points
PAN max: 14 points
-- USA takes 3rd, (1) beats HON if HON doesn't sweep CRC & MEX and (2) beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats HON if HON doesn't sweep CRC & MEX but (2) loses to PAN if PAN sweeps TRI & CRC.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC but (2) loses to HON if HON sweeps CRC & MEX.
-- USA eliminated.

LWT --> 12 points
HON max: 17 points
PAN max: 13 points
-- USA takes 3rd, (1) beats HON if HON loses to both CRC & MEX or beats HON on GD if HON takes 1 point vs. CRC & MEX and (2) beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats HON if HON loses to both CRC & MEX or beats HON on GD if HON takes 1 point vs. CRC & MEX but (2) loses to PAN if PAN sweeps TRI & CRC.
-- USA takes 4th, (1) beats PAN if PAN doesn't sweep TRI & CRC but (2) loses to HON if HON takes two or more points vs. CRC & MEX or HON takes one point and wins on GD.
-- USA eliminated.

37 comments about "Hexagonal: What will it take for USA to qualify?".
  1. R2 Dad, September 3, 2017 at 7:23 a.m.

    Michael Bradley injury?

  2. frank schoon replied, September 3, 2017 at 11:24 a.m.

    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.

  3. Andrew Kear, September 3, 2017 at 11:51 a.m.

    I have not been enjoying watching the USMNT for the last few years. Nothing comes easy for the US team anymore. The MLS has been a training ground and asset for the whole region.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, September 3, 2017 at 3:19 p.m.

    Andrew, I agree that MLS has been an asset and opportunity for the region and beyond even. For the foreign player I don't see it as a development league, per say. Most of them already have the skill set and produce.

  5. Wooden Ships replied, September 3, 2017 at 3:33 p.m.

    I also agree about viewing the USMNT, it's frustrating. Beginning in the early 60's as a player and then to witness the explosive growth of the game since, it is troubling and has been, to see us struggle so with the basic touch and feel for the game. After the Costa Rica loss, I'm hearing the clambering for a return to kick harder, run faster, best them with physicality. That's always been a default position, but it will NEVER, give us a shot in Hell of being respected as a soccer nation, nor will we ever win a World Cup.

  6. frank schoon replied, September 3, 2017 at 5:07 p.m.

    Ships, what drives me nuts is that all the latino types that we have here don't play like latinos as compared to the Latinos that come from other countries. Somehow the US training style develops players to be meat and potato types. Look at Costa Rica players and how smoothly they handle the ball under pressure. We don't have that. We have a huge hispanic contingency here but you have to look underneath a rock to find one that even resembles what we think of how hispanics play...

  7. Ben Myers replied, September 3, 2017 at 5:28 p.m.

    The shortcomings in skill set and tactical sense of the USMNT all start with the selection of players at the youth level. Many coaches are impressed by the size of young players, then recruit and train bigger kids who often rely on size and brute strength, rather than touch and guile. Many years ago when I coached my youngest son at Under 10's, the best team in the program, my team, was loaded with little scrawny quick boys, all filled with the joy of playing. And they held their own against much larger teams. Fast forward 8 years, and one was 6'3", another 6'2, both possessed of advanced foot skills and tactical sense, enough to play 4 years of Division 3 college soccer as strikers who could finish with either foot.

  8. Andrew Kear, September 3, 2017 at 4:37 p.m.

    The MLS is rated as the world's 11th best league. I wish the USMNT team were ranked as high. Maybe the USMNT has peaked and things won't improve much more for awhile. The one thing that has declined is the USMNT defense. For example, we have no defender today as good as Eddie Pope. I would describe today's USMNT defense as careless.

  9. frank schoon replied, September 3, 2017 at 5:01 p.m.

    Andrew, never thought much of Eddie Pope. He was horrible when he had a ball on his foot, wasn't very good in the passing department either. Actually I can't think of one outstanding defender the US ever had.

  10. Mike Polonski replied, September 4, 2017 at 12:25 a.m.

    Andrew, where did you find statistics verifying that MLS is the 11th best league in the world? I would really like to see this.

  11. Ric Fonseca, September 3, 2017 at 4:49 p.m.

    So BA says "they ow us one, don't they? (sic)" is about as sophomoric a statement I've heard lately! Just as much as his assumption "we'd win" on Friday just 'cause we played at the Red Bull stadium and in New Jersey no less! Do take my hat off to him for admitting he was out-coached, in fact isn't the CR coach one of the players to last score against the US in the US some years ago? Of all of the scenarios listed above, heck the best approach is to win the remaining games, no matter who or where the game is played; I'd say to the guys, just go out and play your cojones off, guys, with the same intensity you showed against the other guys in Copa, and in the second half the other evening. Yeah, I am a historian a student and teacher of history for almost 50 years, and it provides for interesting sports history but let me tell ya somethin' pilgrims, talking about it so much and over and over, ain't gonna fix it, 'cause it is over, in the past, and what will happen next Tuesday night will be done with resolve and determination. But for sure, don't you naively think that Mexico will go out of its way and help the US. Go and do it yourselves. SI SE PUEDE!!!

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, September 3, 2017 at 6:02 p.m.

    The simple view is that Honduras and Panama are the nations that threaten us. We absolutely need a result against them after the recent home loss, but a tie does not improve our relative position. To a large extent we control our destiny as a win against them is worth 6 points--the 3 points we get and the 3 points we deny them. For practical purposes, Tuesday's away game is a must win for both teams.

  13. Scott Johnson, September 3, 2017 at 5:07 p.m.

    A few days ago: "BA is a genius!". Today: "We're doomed!".

  14. Ben Myers replied, September 3, 2017 at 5:39 p.m.

    Of course. What has the USMNT done lately? Take itself out of the driver's seat for CONCACAF qualification. In defense of Bruce and, before him, Jurgen, a coach cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Also, look at the Dutch MNT, who struggled today against Bulgaria. Coaching a Dutch team is a revolving door, and if one looks at the Dutch players, there were only three who deserved a rating above 5 today, Blind, Pröpper and Robben, the later of whom is a very elder statesman. Sneidjer and van Persie on the bench are not kids either. Whether van Gaal, the elder Blind or Advocaat, it would take the highest order of legerdemain to coax a 2018 qualification out of this squad.

  15. frank schoon, September 3, 2017 at 6:46 p.m.

    Ben, Holland struggled because they played against Bulgaria with 9 men on defense. That is not only not easy but very frustrating. Qualifying is still up in the air

  16. Joe Linzner, September 3, 2017 at 7:55 p.m.

    He was OUTCOACHED. That assumes he is a coach. In 2006 we watched him coach against the Chechs, Italians and Ghana! 3 games 3 losses and where was his largess then? Whom did he blame. Think about his time with the Galaxy. Loaded teams some wins, yes and some unexplained losses. He supposedly knows the American player. Really? I think not. Taking Pulisic out and keeping leadfoot altidore in, Now that is good coaching??? supposedly Oulisic had a hard game, sure he did. But did anyone actually follow his game, the movement off the ball and rarely being seen. This team and Arena's positioning strategy would disable even Messi. The point is this. Any player is only as good as his supporting players. They supported Altidore and NOT Pulisic. THis team as manned and coached is quite possibly the worst. It certainly was Friday. All we hear is excuses like bad venue, no 12th man. Hope everyone sees Arena as a saviour when in fact he most assuredly isn't.
    Yet, he is American.
    therfore tallyho ya yanks

  17. Andrew Kear replied, September 4, 2017 at 6:57 a.m.

    Let's not forget
    Klinsmann put the USMNT into this mess in the first place.

  18. Joe Linzner, September 3, 2017 at 7:57 p.m.

    whoops we did tie Italy albeit an own goal.

  19. Craig Cummings, September 3, 2017 at 9:46 p.m.

    No way in todays political climate will Mexico help us,dream on. They will always hate the Gringos as we will them.

  20. Wooden Ships replied, September 4, 2017 at 9:15 a.m.

    That's a pretty myopic view Craig and my wish is that you're singularly referring to Futbol. I'll agree its our most intense rivalry.

  21. Dan Eckert, September 4, 2017 at 8:23 a.m.

    Now I completely understand what it is like to be an Arsenal fan.

  22. Ginger Peeler, September 4, 2017 at 11:25 a.m.

    Oh, please! Arena is being snide/sarcastic with his "owe us one" comment! He knows, as should we all, that Mexico is not about to try to engineer a result to help the USA qualify. They've already qualified, but they'll continue to play their games to win and to give their players more tgamev experience. For all you Bradley haters, who do we have to step in and replace him right now? I found it fascinating that the player ratings from the MLS app scored Bradley as one of the top 2 US players in the game. Those results came out before Soccer America's. Frankly, I think Jermaine Jones would have done better, in that game, than Nagbe. However, both of them have a tendency to physically overlap Bradley's space, rather than remain adjacent to him...which leaves an open space that can be exploited by opposing players.

  23. Ginger Peeler, September 4, 2017 at 11:39 a.m.

    I saw, in the second half, that, whenever we got the ball on their end of the field, we were facing at least 8 of their field players between us and the goal. There was no 1 v 1 for more than a few seconds for our players. As noted, Pulisic always had one on him, sometimes 2 and, even 3. What I didn't understand was, when one of our players was driving to goal, where were the teammates running parallel or backing him up? Inevitably, the camera zoomed in for a closeup, so you couldn't see the positioning of surrounding players. We're our guys there? If not, why not? Altidore and Dempsey got so frustrated, they acted out and both earned yellow cards. And poor Pulisic was so frustrated, he was out of the game, mentally, by the time he was subbed. And he'd taken a physical beating. First, the referee let the nasty stuff go, then he called everything, then he settled into something else. I thought he was poor, but better than some CONCACAF referees. We could have used VAR..

  24. Ginger Peeler, September 4, 2017 at 12:02 p.m.

    Lastly, we're missing John Brooks and De Andre Yedlin. There's something very encouraging about the Brooks/Cameron duo in defense. They seem to know how best to play with each other. And Brooks is probably the best player on our back line. I don't know if Cameron is trying to overcompensate for Brooks' absence...something has thrown him off his game. Can Arena find and jury-rig a fix for all this tomorrow? We seem to be handling Yedlin's absence. Maybe he'll start Dempsey, maybe put someone in whose play will compliment Bradley's. Jozy is out with the accumulated red card. Can we capitalize on that? Arena has been charged with getting the USA to the World Cup...that's his sole purpose right now. He's got a stable of good players (although having Brooks would be much better) to work with. He admitted that he screwed up on the last game. Can he fix it by putting a very competitive team on the field against Honduras (another physical team) tomorrow? And can we get a GOOD ref to call a good game? Go USA!

  25. Kevin Leahy, September 4, 2017 at 12:38 p.m.

    Joe, do you think BA record is an accident? We should all be that lucky! Looking back on the result, I wish he had taken out Pulisic earlier. With Jozy suspended you might as well leave him out there. the can't afford to fall on their face Tuesday but, it is not a must win. It will probably all come down to the last match.

  26. Ric Fonseca, September 4, 2017 at 2:37 p.m.

    BA's sarcasm or not about owing one, jeepers, he did admit screwing up, and putting in Dempsey in the second half - well pilgrims the CR guys/coaching staff knew this and prepared for him. That they parked the bus, and know when to limit player's space, is something all youth coaches teach. What the US didn't do much is to shoot from outside their defending third, rather they tried to out dribble the CRican defense that didn't crack at all, and of course having Navas in goal for sure stymied the US. Ginger, as for getting a "GOOD(sic)" referee to call a good game, probably from Mexico, El Salvador or Nicaragua.... GO USA SI SE PUEDE!!!

  27. James Madison, September 4, 2017 at 8:10 p.m.

    Fascinating discussion. IMHO, it's not the coach or the league; it's the players. We don't have much in the back middle pair or the front. If we didn't have Pulisic, Nagbe and Bradley, we wouldn't have much, period. A play-in against Syria would be fascinating.

  28. Craig Cummings, September 4, 2017 at 9:44 p.m.

    Sorry Yes WS only soccer and only mens soccer. I love the Mexican people and my daughters mother is Mexican. I should had said before. My bad.

  29. Wooden Ships replied, September 5, 2017 at 12:39 p.m.

    Thats what I was hoping Craig. Cool.

  30. Aaron Apruzzese, September 5, 2017 at 6:06 a.m.

    Who knew the impact of a single 6 - nil win? Certainly no reason for panic but this disjointed play in the back line doesn't instill confidence either. I know Brooks and Yedlin are not there but we need to be able to rely on some depth. Defending is the most fundamental of soccer skills and if we can't play that at a world class level then it's hard to expect other team skills to fall into place. When the USSF strategy is to build out of the back, we are broken at the foundation. Zusi to Pulisic doesn't work. When you watch Pulisic play at Dortmund, the majority of feeds to him are in stride so he can use his strength, a slashing style of on the run play. Zusi is no Piszczek or Schmelzer but every pass to Pulisic can't expect him to stop and restart. Don't even get me started on giving Beasley the start and full game but Dempsey needs to work off the bench because of age.

  31. Aaron Apruzzese replied, September 5, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.

    Mistype: Beasley to Bradley

  32. Scott O'Connor, September 5, 2017 at 3:02 p.m.

    Dempsey is still one of our biggest threats. He also plays with confidence and swagger that the others can feed off of. He played 20 minutes against Costa Rica. The game was already pretty much over since CR had parked the bus in front of goal at that point. Dempsey can't break down 9 guys behind the ball. He needs to play from the beginning when his goal would put us in the lead so we can dictate the game from there. I'd rather have him for 55-60 minutes from 0-0 than 20 minutes at the end when we might already be done for.

  33. Andrew Kear, September 5, 2017 at 6:21 p.m.

    The US is already down 1-0. For the first time in over a quarter century the US may no qualify for the WC. The team is broken.

  34. Andrew Kear replied, September 5, 2017 at 7:56 p.m.

    It is over 1-1. Ok, its is not the end of the world.

  35. Craig Cummings, September 6, 2017 at 12:46 a.m.

    Thank you WS.

  36. Craig Cummings, September 6, 2017 at 1 a.m.

    We where lucky to get the tie. A game not to watch once more.

  37. Andrew Kear, September 6, 2017 at 2:51 a.m.

    The world's most stressful job is USMNT coach.

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