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US Soccer: World Cup Qualifying Update

Credit: USA Today

US struggles with Costa Rica and Honduras

The United States had a horrific two games, this past week.  First, they lost crucial points against Costa Rica on home soil. During the game, the US started strong, but one lapse in concentration led to Costa Rica scoring. Tim Ream was caught way out of position and the away side’s counter attack led to a goal. Tim Howard was also at fault for the opening goal, his goal kick and poor positioning, led to the opening goal. After that goal, the US looked like they wanted no part in the game. Their confidence looked shot, and then their passes were very predictable. It went something like this: US player to Michael Bradley to Christian Pulisic (who was often double teamed). Pulisic was to not blame for the team’s offensive struggles, but he did not look as sharp with his final pass or shot.

Assuming the Costa Rica match was not bad enough, Honduras then outplayed the US for 90 minutes. Granted, road games are tough in CONCACAF, but the US looked like they were playing Spain or Italy. Bobby Wood came to the rescue for the US, and scored the tying goal, which keeps them cemented in front of Honduras. Another point I wanted to address was some of Bruce Arena’s comments, which consisted of terrible excuses for the performances. Bringing recent (but not really) potential immigration changes to the United States, which does not look like is happening anytime soon. Arena has had a successful first months in charge, but the honeymoon is over. Politics were not the reason for the abysmal performance by the team on home soil.

However, his tone and message did change in later conferences. He would go on to address the problems with the team’s performances, and mentioning that Russia 2018 is not guaranteed. Now, his focus is on the final two games in qualification (vs. Trinidad and Tobago and Panama). The US sit fourth in qualification, which means they would play an Oceania confederation team in a playoff for the World Cup.

The United States have a favorable end to qualification, playing Panama at home, and T&T away (who are practically mathematically eliminated, .04% chance of qualifying). If they win both games, they pretty much can punch their ticket to the World Cup (without a playoff game). Four points may do the job, considering Honduras plays Costa Rica and Mexico, who have already qualified. However, depending on the rest of the table, four points may leave them at the playoff spot. Anything less than three points, and we’ll be talking about the first World Cup without the US, since 1986.

The past few years, under Jurgen Klinsmann, the US have shown up in “do or die” matches similar to the upcoming ones. Not to say Klinsmann was perfect by any means, considering he did drop the opening six points in this qualification cycle. Regardless, the US has had this trait of winning with their backs against wall. Last World Cup, they beat their former kryptonite, Ghana. They also took a point from Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. This allowed them to escape the Group of Death, which some predicted they’d finish at the bottom of. They also have gotten results at the intimidating Estadio Azteca, in Mexico, over the past years.

Even though I was extremely disappointed in the last two matches, I still believe that the US qualifies for the World Cup. As I have said before, worst-case scenario they finish fourth, and play in a playoff game against an Oceania team. The likely opponents would be Australia or New Zealand. Both teams are solid, but the US would be expected to beat either team. Lets not slam the panic button, but let’s just say the margin of error is pencil thin for the US, at the moment.

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