CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying: Honduras want to wrap up third, Mexico and Panama desperate to slip in

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There’s just two matches left in the Hexagonal, but that doesn’t mean there’s no more drama. Sure, the United States have qualified, so there’s little to fret about regarding their match with bottom-dwellers Jamaica (although the match presents plenty of opportunities for the USMNT before they travel to Brazil). Costa Rica, too, have qualified with two games to spare. But there’s still that third placed slot, the one that leads directly to the World Cup, and fourth-place, which requires a win over New Zealand to get to Brazil.

Here’s where the drama comes in: two spots, four contenders. Honduras currently occupy the third spot, the last that can take a country directly to the World Cup. They seem relatively safe, but with two games left, their three point lead over both Panama and Mexico looks a bit too narrow, particularly considering they face Costa Rica on Friday night. A win, however, combined with a draw between Mexico and Panama, sees Honduras buying tickets to Brazil.

Jamaica could still, technically, slip in to that playoff spot, but they’ll have to beat both the United States and Honduras, and hope that Panama and Mexico play out a draw. If that happens, and Panama lose to the U.S., and Mexico lose to Costa Rica, Jamaica will have staged a wonderful comeback and will just need to beat New Zealand to reach Brazil.

CONCACAF Matches (Friday, October 11)

Honduras vs. Costa Rica (5 p.m. ET)

If Honduras want to keep their hold on third place, they really need more than a point in San Pedro Sula. Sure, it’s just Jamaica in the final round, and Los Catrachos can likely make it to Brazil with just four points. But do they really want to put that sort of pressure on themselves? If Honduras can secure a win, and Mexico vs. Panama ends in a draw, the Catrachos are through. But there’s an added complication: Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto has declared his intention to finish first in the Hex, stating that he will not treat these last two matches as mere friendlies, but instead as a warm up to the World Cup.

United States vs. Jamaica (6:30 p.m. ET)

Don’t worry, United States supporters — Steve Davis has you covered with an excellent, in-depth preview on the opportunities the USMNT has to fine-tune and perfect its game in the match against Jamaica. There will be more to follow from Kansas City as we count down the hours to kick off.

 Mexico vs. Panama (9:30 p.m. ET)

Definitely the big match in CONCACAF qualifying. Both sides are going to need to go full out: a draw, plus a win for Honduras, leaves them fighting for the spoils of fourth place. Mexico have lost their last two, but new coach Victor Manuel Vucetich is determined to reverse that trend. He hasn’t recalled Carlos Vela, despite his performances with Real Sociedad, but he’s brought in playmaker Lucas Lobos and recalled Rafa Marquez and Guillermo Memo Ochoa. Panama, meanwhile, will be looking to emulate Honduras by getting a win at the Azteca in Mexico City. The Canaleros beat Mexico twice in the Gold Cup this summer, and are hoping that the third time’s a charm as they continue to chase the dream of reaching their first World Cup.

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Australian women beat US 1-0 in Tournament of Nations

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SEATTLE (AP) Tameka Butt scored in the 67th minute and Australia beat the United States for the first time in the 28-game series, 1-0 in the Tournament of Nations on Thursday night.

The Matildas also snapped the Americans’ four-game winning streak.

Just moments after Butt’s goal got past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, Carli Lloyd blasted a cross from Megan Rapinoe at Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams, who made a fantastic save. Lloyd had another chance that sailed just over the net.

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Japan and Brazil played to a 1-1 draw in the tournament’s opening game in the afternoon at CenturyLink Field.

Each of the four teams in the tournament is in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings. The top-ranked United States went into the game with a 25-0-2 record over the seventh-ranked Matildas.

Rapinoe, who plays for the NWSL’s Seattle Reign, had a good chance early on in the game but the Americans were unable to break through. Rapinoe has 12 goals to lead the NWSL in scoring this season.

The Matildas have been on the rise of the past several years, with quarterfinal appearances in both the 2015 World Cup and the Olympics last year.

Following the stop in Seattle, the tournament shifts to San Diego on Sunday before wrapping up in Carson, California, on Aug. 3.

U.S. Soccer is looking to host a Tournament of Nations each summer that there isn’t World Cup or Olympic competition.

WATCH: Camila’s wicked swerving goal for Brazil

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The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.

While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.

[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]

The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.

The aesthetics are terrific.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.