The Road to Russia: USMNT Needs Strong Finish

(credit: US Soccer)

After a handful of disappointing results in the past 12 months of World Cup Qualifying, the United States Men's National Team looks to secure it's place in Russia this weekend.

It started with a deflating 2-1 loss to Mexico in Columbus and an ugly 4-0 defeat in Costa Rica back in November that led to the firing of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. U.S. Soccer then put USMNT coaching veteran and MLS maestro Bruce Arena to task of leading the team to the World Cup. Initial results were positive. Arena's Qualifying campaign started with a 6-0 romp over Honduras, followed by a 1-1 draw at Panama in March. And a 2-0 Christian Pulisic clinic over Trinidad & Tobago, followed by a successful1-1 draw at Mexico featuring Michael Bradley's 40 yard goalazo. So after their abysmal 0-2 start, the USMNT secured two home wins and two totally respectable away draws. The Bruce Arena 2.0 era was thriving.

And then September came.

(credit: Sports Illustrated)

For some mysterious reason no one has yet to understand, U.S. Soccer decided to host Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. New Jersey happens to have the biggest community of Costa Rican's in the entire United States. As a result Los Ticos fans showed up in droves and effectively sabotaged the non-existent American Outlaw atmosphere. The team put together their worst performance in the new Arena era, and lost 2-0 to the Costa Ricans leaving the squad with just 2 wins out of 7 games played. The team then flew down to hot and humid Honduras who declared the game a national holiday. They once again played pretty poorly and were extremely lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw thanks to a chaotic last minute lucky goal by Bobby Wood.

So after 8 games, this is what the CONCACAF table looks like:
(credit: ESPNFC)

The top 3 teams advance to the World Cup while 4th place plays a two-leg intercontinental play-off match against either Australia or Syria. The final two teams will watch the tournament from their couches.

Right now the U.S. finds themselves in 4th a point behind Panama with Honduras hot on their tails. The U.S. could most likely win a play-off against the weaker Australian or Syrian sides, but we don't want to put anything to chance. We want to be in the top 3 and have a guaranteed spot. Mexico has already clinched and Costa Rica has essentially clinched a spot as well baring an epic collapse against Honduras and Panama. Trinidad & Tobago is essentially eliminated, but loves playing spoilers.

So what does the U.S. need? Well at the bare minimum we have to match what ever Honduras does to at least stay at 4th. They have a tough -7 goal differential that pretty much guarantees we win the tie-breaker over them should we end up even on points. A win against Panama puts the U.S. in a great position, a draw not so much. A loss is unacceptable unless Honduras loses too, but a loss can put our destiny in everyone else's hands. A win is almost necessary in order to advance, and we do not want to put all the pressure on an away game in Trinidad because that can go bad real quick. If a win is secured and assuming Costa Rica can put Honduras away at home, the US are looking good. If none of this happens, properly begin to freak out.

You can catch the U.S. v Panama game on ESPN2 at 7:00 ET on Friday and their match against T&T at 8:00 ET on October 10th.