2018 World Cup qualifying

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FS1 draws biggest audience for qualifier for US-Mexico

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CHICAGO (AP) The United States’ 1-1 draw at Mexico in a World Cup qualifier Sunday night drew the biggest audience for such a game in FS1 history, according to Nielsen Media Research.

FS1 attracted 2,052,000 viewers. Viewership built throughout the match and peaked at 2.8 million viewers from 10-10:15 p.m. EDT.

Earlier this week, Spanish-language Univision announced it drew the most viewers in the U.S. for any soccer match this year.

Univision attracted an average of 4.5 million viewers for the game from Azteca Stadium. Additionally, it was the top World Cup qualifying match in any language on any network in more than four years, since March 26, 2013.

CONCACAF WCQ: Panama snatch a point late; CRC hold off T&T

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Tuesday night’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers couldn’t have gone much better for the U.S. national team, who hold onto third place in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Monday | Sunday ]

Panama 2-2 Honduras

The air was rife with controversy in Panama City on Tuesday, as a Honduras side fighting for its World Cup dream pushed Panama to the limit, with a little help from a swallowed referee’s whistle.

It was a night to savor for Houston Dynamo fans, too, with the MLS side’s Honduran duo of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis bagging a goal each. Quioto opened the scoring in the 6th minute, and Elis put Los Catrachos back in front in the 65th minute, after Blas Perez pulled Los Canaleros level with his head shoulder back neck upper-body part four minutes before halftime.

Then, in the 74th minute, came the controversial non-goal moment which Panamanians will (rightly, perhaps) feel cost their side two points on the night. Gabriel Torres appeared to redirect the ball over the goal line as he stood completely unmarked at the back post following a corner kick. He didn’t strike it cleanly, though, and the ball looped into the air just high enough and long enough for Donis Escober to palm it off his line, at least according to the referee.

The home side would get its equalizer in the final minute of regular time, as Roman Torres, the Seattle Sounders’ 2016 MLS Cup penalty shootout hero, popped up at just the right moment to slot the ball past Escober and rescue a point for Panama.

As far as the USMNT is concerned, a draw was the perfect result for the two sides immediately behind them in the standings (below).

[ MORE: 10-man France top England; Brazil, Argentina rout ]


Costa Rica 2-1 Trinidad and Tobago

Minnesota United defender Francisco Calvo got Costa Rica off to a flying start, putting the home side 1-0 ahead in the 1st minute, only to see his club teammate, forward Kevin Molino, pull Trinidad and Tobago level 34 minutes later. Bryan Ruiz bagged the game-winning goal in the 44th minute, though, to all but officially end T&T’s chances of qualifying for next summer’s tournament in Russia.

Current Hex standings

1. Mexico — 14 points
2. Costa Rica — 11
3. USA — 8
4. Panama — 8
5. Honduras — 5
6. T&T — 3

STREAM: Panama-Honduras, Costa Rica-T&T in CONCACAF WCQ

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Round 6 of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup concludes Tuesday night, as the other four hopefuls (not named Mexico or the United States) for next summer’s tournament in Russia are back in action.

[ WATCH LIVE: CONCACAF WCQs on En Vivo ]

You can stream tonight’s games (in Spanish) on En Vivo by clicking the link above, or here.

Panama vs. Honduras — 9:30 p.m. ET

Costa Rica vs. Trinidad and Tobago — 10 p.m. ET

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Monday | Sunday ]

Following the USMNT’s 1-1 draw with Mexico on Sunday, the Hex standings read as follows:

1. Mexico — 14 points
2. Costa Rica — 8
3. USA — 8
4. Panama — 6
5. Honduras — 4
6. T&T — 3

How do the Hex standings look after Mexico-USA?

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The U.S. national team have dragged themselves back into a very good position in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

[ STREAM: 2018 World Cup qualifiers ]

Bruce Arena has picked up eight points in the first four qualifying games in charge, after the U.S. lost to Mexico and Costa Rica in its opening two qualifiers last fall which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

Now the USMNT is in a much healthier position with the top three teams from the Hex qualifying automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the fourth-place team playing a two-legged playoff against a nation from the Asian Football Confederation.

With Costa Rica hosting Trinidad & Tobago and Honduras heading to Panama on Tuesday (you can stream both those games live by clicking on the link above) the Hex will look a little different tomorrow evening.

But for the USMNT, they now know that wins against Costa Rica at home on Sept. 1 and at Honduras on Sept. 5. would be huge in all-but securing a top four finish, while victories for Costa Rica and Panama on Tuesday would mean that Honduras and T&T would be hard pressed to finish in the top four of qualifying.

The turnaround under Arena has been stark for the U.S. national team as they’ve clawed their way back into a good position after a horrendous start to qualifying.

Via U.S. Soccer, here’s a look at how the Hex standings look on Monday.


2018 FIFA World Cup QualifyingCONCACAF Final Round Standings
TEAM GP W L D Pts. GF GA GD
Mexico 6 4 0 2 14 9 2 +7
Costa Rica 5 2 1 2 8 7 3 +4
USA 6 2 2 2 8 11 8 +3
Panama 5 1 1 3 6 2 2 0
Honduras 5 1 3 1 4 4 12 -8
Trinidad & Tobago 5 1 4 0 3 2 8 -6

Arena’s gameplan sets USMNT up for point in Mexico

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After 90 minutes of hair-on-fire soccer at Estadio Azteca, the U.S. national team has just its third competitive point at Mexico’s national stadium. The lessons from Sunday’s clash in Mexico City are infinite, but for now, let’s look at three key elements of Bruce Arena’s gameplan, and give the USMNT boss some deserved (and vindicating) praise.

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It’s good to have a plan

Arena went on to say they were “positioned to get three points today,” and he couldn’t be more right (Mexican coaches and players should be saying the same thing, but the game was that close). The last time the Yanks visited Azteca in World Cup qualifying, that wasn’t so much the case.

Let’s go ahead and list, in detail, all the ways Arena set his team up for this specific game, against this specific opponent:

1. Three center backs — It was effectively five across the back for much of the night, and it created a numerical balance that rarely allowed the USMNT to be overloaded in its defensive third. Working on something in training, and refining it in a friendly, before calling upon it in a meaningful game is covered on the first day of Management 101. Not everyone attends the first day of class, though, and that’s understandable.

2. Midfield partnership — It’s impossible to say what Arena would have done if Jermaine Jones had been healthy. The temptation certainly would have been there to roster him and call on the “old head who’s been here before” for a game like this. What’s not difficult to say is this: “Plain and simple, Kellyn Acosta makes Michael Bradley better.” Bradley’s only able to aggressively step up and win the ball high in midfield, as he did just before scoring his goal, if he knows Acosta’s behind him and disciplined enough to fill the space vacated if Bradley is unsuccessful. Let’s have a quick look at Acosta’s positioning when Bradley makes his move…

Not to oversimplify everything asked of a central midfielder, especially in a midfield-two, but Acosta, at the age of 21, already shows the kind of discipline that has never been a particular strength of Jones. (Sidenote: that’s totally fine, and in no way a knock on Jones. It’s only ever actually been a problem because he was shoehorned into a horribly ill-fitting role his entire USMNT career.)

3. Personnel to fit the counter-attacking approach — Under the previous coach, the USMNT set out to defend deep and hit teams (especially better sides) on the counter with frustrating regularity (considering the possession-based, attacking soccer that was promised in August 2011). Sometimes they were successful, but mostly it just frustrated (USMNT fans, not opponents).

And, why was it so? Let’s consider the personnel which has gobbled up the majority of starts in the final third over the last half-decade: Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are each fine players in a system that plays to their strengths, but attacking open space is just about the last thing the two of them do well.

By swapping Altidore for Bobby Wood, and Dempsey for Paul Arriola, Arena put a bit of pace on the field — players who are comfortable (and effective) running at defenders in the field. For the 79 minutes Wood was on the field, Mexican defenders were aware of him running in behind weighed heavily, and kept them honest. Against a forward like Altidore, they’re able to creep further and further forward, shrink the field and recycle possession in the middle third again and again.

Arena even played a pair of central midfielders who thrive at playing long balls to runners in space. In theory, and an environment slightly different than Azteca, Bradley and Acosta feed those quick wingers and let them stretch their legs to devastating effect with a forward who can keep up, make smart runs inside the box and finish his chances.

For the first time in a long time, the building blocks appear to be in place, and genuine progression from one game to the next is clear as day. I’m encouraged and hopeful in a way that I’d long since forgotten.