The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team has good news and bad news heading into the final two World Cup-qualifying games. The good news is the team is almost guaranteed to end up with a top-four finish. The bad is that there is no guarantee of a trip to the 2018 World Cup.
The final two qualifying games will be on Friday, Oct. 6, and Tuesday, Oct. 10.
Currently the U.S. men are in fourth place in the Confederation of North, Central and Caribbean Association Football qualifier with nine points. The confederation gets three automatic berths into the World Cup, and the fourth-place finisher faces a third-place finisher from the Asian Football Confederation after a two-leg playoff in AFC.
Mexico is in the World Cup with 18 points but still has to play the final two games. El Tri gets the last two teams in the group with a home match against Trinidad and Tobago, and a trip to Honduras. Trinidad and Tobago is last in the group with just three points, and Honduras is fifth with nine points but sits behind the U.S. at minus-seven in goal differential.
Second-place Costa Rica is all but assured to get into the World Cup with 15 points. The Ticos host Honduras and travel to Panama. Costa Rica could end up having a major say in who gets to Russia.
Panama is third with 10 points and has an away game to the U.S. and a home one against Costa Rica. Los Canaleros get a chance at revenge against the U.S. for knocking them out of the 2014 World Cup.
If the U.S. is to advance to Russia, a home win over Panama is the best way to get into the third spot. That would leave Trinidad and Tobago with a need for a draw to sew up a spot in the top three. Of course, two wins would easily get the U.S. to Russia, but the way this team has played, two wins might take a minor miracle. Two draws will only be good enough for a fourth-place finish at best.
A loss to Panama could also end up meaning a fourth-place finish, at best, for the U.S.
The team could severely dash U.S. hopes with a win and all but qualify themselves for World Cup. A loss to the U.S. would severely hurt their chances of a top-three finish. A draw would leave the door open for a top-three finish. Costa Rica will have some say over how the final game goes between these two nations.
Costa Rica would wrap up the second spot with a win or draw over Honduras. Panama could then advance over the U.S. if Costa Rica doesn’t field a top squad against Los Canaleros in the final game. That could end up helping Panama earn a top-three finish.
Honduras is a long shot, but if it can pull out two wins, a trip to Russia is possible. The biggest obstacle for the team is the dreadful goal differential. Because Los Catrachos face Costa Rica and Mexico in the final two games, it is a three-horse race for two spots between the U.S., Panama and Costa Rica.
Since Costa Rica could field a weaker team against Panama if it is in the World Cup, the U.S. would be wise to beat Panama. A draw doesn’t doom the U.S., but it would mean that the team must get three points against Trinidad and Tobago.
If the U.S. can’t get four or six points over the final two games, the squad has no business being in Russia next year.
Now if the team finishes fourth, they will face either Syria or Australia out of the AFC in a two-leg playoff. Those games will happen some time in November.
The two-leg AFC playoff just happens to be on the same days as the final games of CONCACAF qualifying. The opening leg will be in Malaysia because of the Syrian civil war, and the final leg will be in Australia.
Because of up and down play, the U.S. has little margin for error in the next two games. The easiest scenario is win, and you’re in.