With World Cup berth on the line, USA finds itself in very awkward situation

The USA has never been in this position before in the Hexagonal. It has always clinched its berth in the World Cup finals before the 10th and final day of the six-team Concacaf tournament.

Three times the USA waited until the ninth game to qualify. But it qualified after only eight games in 2013 and just seven games in 2005, the last time Bruce Arena coached in the Hex.

This time was different. The USA opened with defeats in its first two games and was in last place in the Hex when Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann. The USA quickly got back in contention with a 6-0 win over Honduras and 1-1 tie at Panama in March, but a 2-0 loss at home to Costa Rica on Sept. 1 stalled the momentum the USA had built up in the first eight months of the year under Arena.

The loss to the Ticos was the USA's second of the Hex at home, one more than in the first four tournaments combined. The USA moved back into third place on Friday night with a 4-0 win over Panama and headed to Trinidad & Tobago for the Hex finale on Tuesday knowing that it will clinch with a win or a tie.

"We're doing well," said Arena after Friday's win. "I know everyone thought we were going to qualify in six games in 2017. It doesn't happen that way. I think we're moving along well, we've advanced from sixth to third, we're positioned well with goal differential, and now we have to finish it off on Tuesday in Trinidad."

Hexagonal Standings:
12 (3) USA 3-3-3 16/11
10 (4) Panama 2-4-3 7/9
10 (5) Honduras 2-4-3 10/17

(3)=goes to World Cup.
(4)=goes into playoff against Australia/Syria winner.

Hexagonal Schedule:
Tuesday, October 10

Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA, 8 pm ET, beIN Sports, Universo
Panama vs. Costa Rica, 8 pm ET, Telemundo Deportes
Honduras vs. Mexico, 8 pm ET Telemundo

The USA will take the field in the same position T&T was in 1989 when it faced the USA, needing only a tie to clinch its first berth in the World Cup finals. We all know how that turned out: Paul Caligiuri's goal gave the USA a 1-0 win that sent it to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years and Trinidad & Tobago into mourning.

Arena says the USA will play for the win -- which would be another first in this Hex. The 2016-17 competition is the first in which the USA has failed to win a single game on the road.

“We need to get on the field Tuesday and win the game,” he said. “In the closing minutes, if we have a point wrapped up, we just need to be smart, but certainly our mentality is going to be to go to Trinidad and win.”

A tie will be enough to send the USA to the World Cup but it would lead to some anxious moments for the U.S. faithful if either Panama or Honduras is winning its game being played at the same time. (A U.S. loss would drop it into fourth if Panama or Honduras wins -- fifth place and out of the World Cup if Panama and Honduras win.)

Arena's biggest concern is that Soca Warriors, losers of eight of nine games, will have no pressure on them.

“They’ve been playing some new players," he said, "and I think they’re going to be playing with a lot of freedom. They can be very aggressive -- no one from Trinidad is going to be suspended for the first game of the World Cup, so they can have an aggressive mentality, they can have a loose spirit and they’re going to be a real difficult team to play against, so we have to be at our best.”
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