The final stage of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF is absolutely a grueling endeavor for all of the teams. Just like CONMEBOL throws all of its team in a group and has them duke it out for a slew of matches, CONCACAF basically does the same. The only difference? There's no such thing as an easy match in North America. The six teams playing in the group affectionately referred to as "The Hex" can all qualify for the World Cup, as demonstrated by the fact that the favored team to win the group of six, the United States, is still without a point in six matches.
Costa Rica – 6 Points
Mexico – 4 Points
Panama – 4 Points
Honduras – 3 Points
Trinidad & Tobago – 0 Points
United States – 0 Points
The biggest thing about the Hex is that three of the teams get automatic spots into the World Cup, while the fourth place finisher moves on to the inter-confederation playoff. That means there's still plenty of time for even both the U.S.A. and Trinidad & Tobago to come storming back to the rest of the pack, just as there's time for Costa Rica to ultimately fall flat.
There are only two matches in the books at this point, and Los Ticos are clearly in the best shape. They've got six points from their two games, though in fairness, they basically just took care of basic business on the road against Trinidad & Tobago while coming back and blasting the United States when it was most vulnerable at the end of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
But it really wasn't Costa Rica who sank the United States. It was really Mexico that did the job. El Tri might have only snared a point against Panama on the road, but it was the three that it got in Columbus that really set them up for success in the Hex and pushed Klinsmann out the door. The goal right at the death by Rafael Marquez to break a 1-1 tie in Ohio, a place where Mexico flat out had zero success in the past, may as well have been the de facto end for Klinsmann with the USMNT. The 4-0 loss to Costa Rica was merely the icing on the bitter cake for the Yanks.
What must be noted about Mexico is that it has played two road games thus far and still has to play all five of its home games at Estadio Azteca. Anything less than four wins in those five matches will be considered a brutal disappointment, and even if the team managed just 10 points from the five duels, 14 is probably good enough in the 10 matches to qualify for the World Cup, even if nothing else was gotten on the road.
Panama has had a good start to qualifying for sure. The Panamanians are still surely dogs to qualify, but they started off with a 1-0 win at Honduras and followed that up by a very workmanlike scoreless draw at home against Mexico. Any points that can be gotten against the U.S. and Mexico are good, and that's why Panama is in good shape through two matches.
The next set of fixtures in the Hex comes at the end of March. The Americans have a home date with Honduras and an away fixture with Panama to be played, and new boss Bruce Arena should be going in with the goal of getting at least one win and a draw in those two fixtures to put the World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.
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