Octagonal: Margins are still slim as winter window kicks off

With only six games left in Concacaf's World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign, the focus is on the standings and what will it take for the USA to book a ticket to Qatar.

The USA has 15 points after eight games — already two more than what it would have taken to qualify in the 10-game Hexagonal last time around.

But 15 points this time gives the USA only a one-point lead over Mexico and Panama, tied for third place, and edges in goal difference of three and five goals. The top three teams will claim automatic berths to the World Cup; the fourth-place team must play the Oceania winner (likely New Zealand) in June.

The USA opens the winter window on Thursday against El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio. A win over Hugo Perez's Selecta, which has won just one of eight games, could catapult the USA into first place by the end of Thursday night. Just a tie could drop the USA into fourth place after Thursday. The margins are slim in the Octagonal's top four.

In terms of qualifying scenarios, the USA will want to avoid having to win the one-game playoff in June or having to get a result in its final Concacaf match on March 30 at Costa Rica, where it has lost nine straight World Cup qualifiers.

A more likely scenario -- and better on everyone's nerves -- is that the USA clinches when it hosts Panama on March 27, but it will likely take at least a sweep of the three remaining home games and some help for other teams.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter isn't concerned with qualifying scenarios or how many points per game his team will need to go to Qatar.

"We want to qualify for the World Cup," he said on Wednesday. "That's the most important thing. I'm not getting hung up on points per game, I'm getting hung up on qualifying for the World Cup."

Nor does he want his team to get ahead of itself. The mention of a nine-point window in September looked silly when the USA opened with ties at El Salvador and Canada, its first two opponents again in the winter window.

"We're focused on winning the game tomorrow," he added, "and we're going to do whatever we can to win the game. After we do that, we'll focus on Canada and how we're going to win that game, how we're going to prepare for that game, and then after that we'll focus on Honduras. We're not getting ahead of ourselves."

Octagonal: Thursday's four games (Matchday 9)
USA (15) vs. El Salvador (6), 7 pm. USA has never lost to La Selecta in WCQ.
Jamaica (7) vs. Mexico (14), 7 pm. El Tri's Chucky Lozano is suspended.
Honduras (3) vs, Canada (16), 8:05 pm. Canada lost 8-1 in San Pedro Sula in 2012.
Costa Rica (9) vs. Panama (14), 9:05 pm. Ticos haves scored 6 goals in 8 games.
Note:In parentheses are total points. All times ET.

Photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos

5 comments about "Octagonal: Margins are still slim as winter window kicks off".
  1. John Sabala, January 27, 2022 at 8:06 a.m.

    Ok, this is an oxymoron, "We want to qualify for the World Cup," he said on Wednesday. "That's the most important thing. I'm not getting hung up on points per game, I'm getting hung up on qualifying for the World Cup." 

    You qualify for the WC by earning enough points in your matches, so the points are the key to getting to Qatar.  If this is his analogy no wonder we have seen so many fiascos and close calls with this cycle.   There is no sense to his statements, just like his team selections and tactical game plans.

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, January 27, 2022 at 11:43 a.m.

    Drop the "Oxy" and you got what we Have as a Coach...
    This has Been WAY MORE Difficult than it Needed to be.
    Hope he doesn't Screw It Up by Starting a bunch of MLSers tonight.
    Should be:

    CP        Pepi    Aaronson
                   Musah
      McKenNIE
              Adams
    aRob                Dest
        Richards mRob
             *Turner*

  3. Seth Vieux replied, January 27, 2022 at 1:53 p.m.

    I definitely prefer Weah to start over Aaronson, and think Aaronson is a great weapon as a sub - he's a bit better on the left side if CP needs a break and Weah's going strong, he can provide some change up if necessary by deploying him as more of a 10 with McKennie or Musah dropping back to a double pivot with Adams, and if we end up needing to sub both CP and Weah the other wingers (Arriola/Morris) are definitely far more effective on the right than the left.

    All that not to imply that I don't think Aaronson is starter quality, I definitely do, just think Weah is significantly more dangerous on the right and Aaronson provides some versatility for in-game tactical changes as a 60th minute sub (also including bringing him on for Pepi if he's off, with Weah rotating into the striker position).

  4. Seth Vieux replied, January 27, 2022 at 1:56 p.m.

    I'd also like to see Richards / Miles as the CB pairing, think that's the future and they need as many minutes together as possible, but am not going to be at all surprised if Zimmerman ends up starting over one of them. I don't exactly hate that, as I think he's steady, but hope GGG does go with Richards / Miles.

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, January 27, 2022 at 3:26 p.m.

    Seth: I agree that the Offensive abilities of Weah are better than Aaronson, but:
    CP-Pepi-Weah (with Musah and McKenNie behind them) Line-Up will NOT be Very Co-Ordinated at "GegenPressing"; None of them have the Soccer IQ or Natural Inclination/Desire to Work in Tandem, to Trap the Opponents in their own Third. They are Late Starters on the Press, Late Followers and Late Arrivers to the Ball Handler.
    Think of them as VERY Dynamic CONES.!!!
    That is why I preferred Sargent instead of Pepi to Start at Ct.F... 
    Pepi has been Mis-Firing alot these Last Couple of Months...
    Ever since Ggg didn't Start him that one Game.

    My Prediction, we will EKE out a 2-1 Helter Skelter Win, as we will have a Disjointed Pressing Game, of 5 Guys that will be All Over the Place in an Un-Coordinated scramble...'
    Each Off Running at the Opponent at the Wrong Time, on the Wrong Angle, with the Wrong Support to the Side, and the Wrong Support Behind...
    At Some Point, one of their Smaller Quicker Players will get Free and Isolated in the Penalty Area against Zimmermann and PK Will Occur.

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