World Cup: USA controls its own destiny but margin for error greatly reduced

Until now, never has the USA had to play all 10 Hexagonal games to qualify for the World Cup.

Qualifying matchday:
1997: 9th/3-0 at Canada
2001: 9th/2-1 vs. Jamaica
2005: 7th/2-0 vs. Mexico
2009: 9th/3-2 at Honduras
2013: 8th/2-0 vs. Mexico

The USA famously won, 1-0, at Trinidad & Tobago to advance to the 1990 World Cup in Italy on the final day of qualifying, but that Concacaf tournament was the Pentagonal, a five-team competition.

This Hexagonal will go down as the worst in U.S. history:

-- Even if the USA sweeps Panama on Friday and Trinidad & Tobago the Tuesday after that, it will finish with 15 points, two less than its previous low in 1997 and 2001.
-- The USA already lost more home games in the current Hexagonal (2) than it lost in the five previous Hexagonals combined (1).
-- The USA enters Friday's game with a three-game winless streak in the Hexagonal, its longest winless streak since 2001.

However bad the USA started out, losing to Mexico and Costa Rica in its first two games and forcing a coaching change, it would have been in great shape to clinch a berth in the World Cup finals with a game to spare Friday night if it had not lost to Costa Rica, 2-0, in September.

The shock defeat to the Ticos has put the USA in a virtually must-win situation on Friday -- a situation Coach Bruce Arena is OK with.

"We have no excuses," he said at the USA's first practice in Sanford, Florida, on Monday. "We are not depending on other teams to win games to help us, we are depending on ourselves so whenever you are in that situation it is a positive."

Hexagonal Schedule:
Friday, October 6
USA vs. Panama, 7:35 pm ET
Costa Rica vs. Honduras, 9:30 pm ET
Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago, 10 pm ET

Tuesday, October 10

Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA, 8 pm ET
Panama vs. Costa Rica, 8 pm ET
Honduras vs. Mexico, 8 pm ET

Hexagonal Standings:
18 *Mexico 5-3-0 11/3
15 Costa Rica 4-3-1 12/5
10 Panama 2-4-2 7/5
9 USA 2-3-3 12/11
9 Honduras 2-3-3 9/16
3 Trin. & Tobago 1-0-7 4/15
*Qualified for World Cup 2018.

If the USA beats Panama ... The USA will all but mathematically assure itself of third place if it beats Panama Friday and then wins next Tuesday at Trinidad & Tobago. (A win by a couple of goals will increase the USA's edge over Panama on goal difference and give it a cushion in case of a tie at T&T.)

Anything less than a sweep will force the USA to seek help: either from Costa Rica (against Honduras on Friday and/or at Panama next Tuesday) or Mexico (at Honduras next Tuesday).

If the USA ties Panama ... The USA will no longer control its own destiny in the race for third. Panama will be able to clinch next Tuesday if it beats Costa Rica at home. And if that happens, the USA will have to get help from Costa Rica or Mexico against Honduras just to stay alive with a win at Trinidad & Tobago.

If the USA loses to Panama ... The USA will be reduced to fighting it out for fourth place with Honduras and a spot in the November playoffs -- and better hope the Catrachos don't get a point in Costa Rica. They'd then clinch fourth place with a win at home against Mexico.

USA vs. Panama:
-- The USA has lost to Panama only once in 18 meetings, but that was down the road from Orlando, in Tampa, a 2-1 defeat in the group stage of the 2011 Gold Cup.

-- The USA has otherwise recorded 12 wins and five ties against Panama, but that record is misleading. The last four games have all ended in ties: both games at the 2015 Gold Cup, the second for third place (which Panama won in a shootout), the first meeting in the current Hexagonal in March and the opening game of the 2017 Gold Cup in July.

2 comments about "World Cup: USA controls its own destiny but margin for error greatly reduced".
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now, October 3, 2017 at 9:35 a.m.

    Looks like the new format has greatly reducing comments.  Not sure why that would be but hopefully it changes soon.  The new format makes it a lot easier to write readable comments too since you can add paragraphs.


  2. Bob Ashpole replied, October 3, 2017 at 11:06 a.m.

    I think it is just a matter of it being a little more difficult to find the articles. I keep returning to the "home page" by clicking on the SoccerAmerica logo above. Otherwise I am lost.

    The objective regardless is to win the next match and worry about standings later. 

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