The United States Men’s National Team lost a costly match at home to Costa Rica on Friday night, 2-0, setting up a nervy closing to World Cup qualifying over the next month. The team still controls its own fate with results–and now turns to the lower half of the CONCACAF qualification table, with all four matches against Costa Rica and Mexico concluded.
In CONCACAF qualifying, the top three teams (out of six) advance directly to the World Cup, and the fourth-placed team will play a home-and-home series against a fifth-placed finisher from Asia in November. The United States is currently in third place, but tenuously, on goal differential over Honduras and one point ahead of Panama.
Here are the remaining schedules for the three contenders for third place qualification, as well as the fourth place playoff spot.
United States (8 points)
at Trinidad & Tobago
Honduras (8 points)
vs. United States
at Costa Rica
Panama (7 points)
vs. Trinidad & Tobago
at United States
vs. Costa Rica
In a vacuum, Honduras would have the most difficult remaining schedule, and Panama would have no easy path with Costa Rica in the final game following the visit to the United States. However, Mexico has qualified and Costa Rica is close to qualifying. Will those two teams do what the United States did for Mexico four years ago with nothing on the line in a final week?
The best possible result for the United States leading into those games is for Mexico to get 3 points against Costa Rica on Tuesday. That would guarantee Costa Rica has to play to win against Honduras in the ninth game.
Meanwhile, it is the Panama match on October 6th that is most vital for the United States’ chances. Getting three points in that match is a necessity. That’s not to say that a result at Honduras on Tuesday is not desirable. The United States would have little margin for error if they don’t get at least a point on the road.
If the United States can get maximum 6 points in the next two matches, then the road trip to Trinidad & Tobago in the final match will not matter and they will still qualify in third, as they will be well ahead of Honduras on goal differential, and ahead of Panama regardless of their other results.
4 points in the next two would leave the United States in very good position to outright qualify and a heavy favorite to at least get the playoff spot.
That playoff spot, right now, looks like it could be against a team as good as Australia. Australia trails Saudi Arabia by two points in one of the Asia qualifying groups with one match remaining. Saudi Arabia has the much tougher final matchup (against already-qualified Japan) and whichever of those two finish third will likely play one of Syria, Uzbekistan, or China, and be the favorite to advance to the CONCACAF/ASIA playoff.
3 points, with a win over Panama and a loss to Honduras, would leave the United States ahead of Panama going into the final match, and still ahead of Honduras unless they can also get a result at Costa Rica. But it would be the same thin margins that would require 3 points to assure qualification with Mexico and Costa Rica potentially having nothing to play for on the final match day.
3 points, with a win over Honduras and a loss to Panama, would likely put the United States relying on the playoff for qualification (because Panama is also a favorite against Trinidad & Tobago at home). Anything less than that would be disaster.