CONCACAF World Cup qualifying

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Costa Rica-Honduras to be played Saturday due to tropical storm

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Costa Rica will have to wait an extra day to attempt to earn its place in next summer’s World Cup.

Tropical storm Nate has caused Friday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier between Los Ticos and Honduras to be moved back to Saturday as the dangerous weather passes through Central America.

[ MORE: Previewing the USMNT’s WCQ match against Panama ]

Costa Rica soccer federation chief Rodolfo Villalobos announced the decision to alter the match’s timing on Thursday night as a precautionary measure.

The qualifying fixture will take place at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica.

Los Ticos need just one point out of their final two WCQ matches to join Mexico in Russia next summer as representatives from CONCACAF. Costa Rica currently sits second on points in the qualifying process, while Honduras is in fifth place.

Watch live — USMNT visits Honduras in must-win CONCACAF WCQ

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We already know that one team from CONCACAF has booked its place in next year’s World Cup, but two more automatic qualifying spots are up for grabs.

However, that number could be down to one by the end of Tuesday. Mexico has ensured its place in the field of 32 in Russia, but Costa Rica could join El Tri on the road to the World Cup with a win at the Estadio Nacional.

[ WATCH: All three matches live streamed on Telemundo ]

All eyes will be on San Pedro Sula though, as the U.S. Men’s National Team needs a win to keep its 2018 hopes alive. Bruce Arena and Co. cannot be eliminated with a loss, but it would certainly make the task of reaching Russia much, much more difficult.

Finally, a loss for Trinidad & Tobago could theoretically spell the end of their hopes of finishing in the top three.

Here’s a look at the CONCACAF table as things stand.

  1. Mexico (QUALIFIED) — 17 points (+8 GD)
  2. Costa Rica — 14 points (+7 GD)
  3. USMNT — 8 points (+1 GD)
  4. Honduras — 8 points (-7 GD)
  5. Panama — 7 points (-1 GD)
  6. Trinidad & Tobago — 3 points (-8 GD)

[ MORE: Three major storylines for the USMNT ahead of Honduras clash ]

Below is Tuesday’s schedule for Matchday 8 of CONCACAF WCQ.

Honduras vs. USMNT — 5:36 p.m. ET
Costa Rica vs. Mexico — 10:05 p.m. ET
Panama vs. Trinidad & Tobago — 10:05 p.m. ET

Looking back at the USMNT’s last seven WCQ campaigns

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Why is the number seven so relevant for the U.S. Men’s National Team?

It just happens to be the number of consecutive times that the Americans have reached the World Cup, which dates back to the U.S. reaching Italy in 1990.

[ MORE: USMNT faces must-win against Honduras in CONCACAF WCQ ]

While 1990 doesn’t seem like that long ago, it’s forever for the USMNT, who has taken significant strides forward since falling out of the 1990 competition with three straight defeats and only two goals to show for their entire stay.

Now, the U.S. has their backs against the wall in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time since 2002, when the Americans needed a final day loss from Honduras to reach South Korea/Japan.

Bruce Arena and the American need a positive result on Tuesday, ironically enough against Honduras, in order to see their hopes of reaching Russia next summer lifted. As things stand, the USMNT sits in third place in WCQ on eight points and three matches left to play.

Here, we take a look at the USMNT’s last seven WCQ campaigns and how the Americans fared on their way to each World Cup.

1990

The CONCACAF Championship was used for the final time to determine the two teams that would reach the World Cup, and it was an overall strange year after Mexico was disqualified for fielding overage players.

Finish: 2nd on 11 points

1994

It was a pretty easy route to the World Cup for the United States. They’ll hope to have that same path in 2026…

Finish: Hosts of tournament, didn’t need to qualify

1998

It proved to be one of the more competitive qualifying campaigns, with no nation winning more than four matches in the lead up to France. The USMNT, led by Eric Wynalda’s goalscoring, helped the team finish just behind El Tri at the top of the Hex.

Finish: 2nd on 17 points

2002

Costa Rica was the dominant side during this qualifying campaign, losing just once along their way to South Korea & Japan. The Americans, however, started out hot with five straight positive results, before slowing down significantly and needing assistance from Mexico on the final matchday to take care of business against Honduras.

Finish: 3rd on 17 points

2006

The U.S. and Mexico were riding each other’s coat tails before Germany’s competition in ’06, with the two rivals finishing tied atop the Hex on 22 points. The Americans edged El Tri based on head-to-head results, but that didn’t much matter when the USMNT reached the World Cup the following year and bailed out in the group stage.

Finish: 1st on 22 points

2010

It was a heated race to finish atop the Hex ahead of South Africa’s World Cup, with the U.S., Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica all within four points of one another. The Americans were also riding in hot after their strong FIFA Confederations Cup campaign in 2009, which saw the team capture a historic 2-0 victory against Spain in the semifinals.

Finish: 1st on 20 points

2014

In the build up to Brazil, the U.S. managed to dominate CONCACAF, taking eight positive results out of its 10 Hexagonal fixtures. The Yanks even helped Mexico reach the World Cup with its final-day victory over Panama, who were on the verge of finishing ahead of El Tri.

Finish: 1st on 22 points

Arena thinks US immigration debate fires up opposing players

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SAN Pedro SULA, Honduras (AP) American coach Bruce Arena thinks the divisive debate over immigration policy in the United States is firing up opposing players and fans.

[ MORE: Three key storylines for USMNT heading into Honduras match ]

“Our immigration policies are impacting people in Central America, right, and there’s probably a little bit of anger over that,” Arena said ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier at Honduras. “And then your national sport gets a chance to play the U.S. I’m sure it becomes very meaningful.”

Arena also criticized the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision to play last week’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. While ticket priority was given to season-ticket holders of the New York Red Bulls and people affiliated with the USSF, supporters of the visitors were a sizeable portion of the sellout crowd of 26,500.

Costa Rica won 2-0, giving the U.S. two home qualifying losses in a World Cup cycle for the first time since 1957.

“It was already decided, but I don’t think we should play in a venue that’s comfortable for the visiting team,” said Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann in November. “I don’t think it made a difference in the game.”

The U.S. had lost just one home qualifier in 50 matches since 1985 before a 2-1 defeat against Mexico in November at Columbus, Ohio. Last week’s game was the first World Cup qualifier in the New York metropolitan area.

“We don’t get any luxuries of going on the road and everything is nice and comfortable and we’ve got a good fan base coming out to the game and all of that,” he said Monday. “Obviously our country is unique to other countries. We’re a melting pot and all the countries in CONCACAF, many of their countrymen make it to the United States in one capacity or other and they’ll come out and support their team. So we have to be shrewd in the venues that we select to play different countries.”

[ MORE: U.S. faces must-win trip to Honduras in World Cup qualifying ]

The last U.S. home qualifier in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region is Oct. 6 against Panama in Orlando, Florida.

“I haven’t looked into that. Am I going to find out that there’s a big Panamanian population in Orlando?” Arena said. “I would sense that Orlando is going to be very much pro-American.”

Three key storylines for the USMNT ahead of Honduras clash

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U.S. Men’s National Team supporters are still trying to get over the mess that they witnessed on Friday night at Red Bull Arena, but there isn’t much more time to sulk.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios remaining for the USMNT ]

Three matches remain in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and the USMNT is in a heated battle for a place in Russia next summer with both Honduras and Panama.

With Mexico already qualified and Costa Rica on the brink of reaching World Cup 2018, that leaves one automatic qualifying position up for grabs, while a potential playoff with a nation representing Asia could also be an option for Bruce Arena and Co.

[ MORE: Breaking down the USMNT’s back-and-forth Hexagonal run ]

Let’s take a glance at the most intriguing storylines heading into the USMNT’s WCQ against Honduras.

Defensive shape, center back pairing?

There were a handful of tactical mistakes made by Arena during Friday’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, but the glaring lineup error that stuck with everybody was to pair Tim Ream with Geoff Cameron at the central defense.

This isn’t to say that Ream or Cameron aren’t quality players, however, it was quite noticeable that the communication and tactical awareness necessary to pull off the defensive partnership wasn’t present in New Jersey.

Cameron is a lock to start for the U.S. in any important match moving forward given his Premier League experience and overall solid play on big stages for the Stars and Stripes, but the question of which player starts alongside him on the back line is one that must be pondered.

Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Matt Hedges are the three other options Arena has at his disposal for Tuesday’s match at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, which will be the USMNT boss’ biggest match to date since beginning his second term with the Yanks.

Besler is the logical option given his World Cup experience and the fact that he is a left-sided player due to the fact that he is left-footed. The Sporting KC man boasts 44 caps with the U.S. and his club teammate Graham Zusi will also be starting along the back line, which could certainly help with any potential communication errors.

Who starts at striker?

Jozy Altidore and his 108 appearances for the USMNT will be severely missed in Honduras, but the Toronto FC striker will miss out on the match due to yellow-card accumulation.

That leaves Arena with another massive lineup decision on his plate heading into the crucial match in Central America. While the former LA Galaxy manager’s other options on the bench do have decent experience, his pick of the litter doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.

Let me explain.

Clint Dempsey is by far the most-viable option for Arena, but this also isn’t three/four years ago. The Seattle Sounders forward is 34 years old and his ability to be playing a full match in Honduras is strongly in question.

It’s more likely that you’ll see him in an extended role during the second half on Tuesday, especially if things aren’t going the Americans’ way.

Bobby Wood should be guaranteed another start up front barring something unforeseen, so that leaves Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski, unless Arena opts for Wood as the lone striker.

Isolating Wood like that in the attack could really help or hurt the U.S. attack, though. By starting Wood as the team’s forward it could potentially give Arena the freedom to bring on a player like Paul Arriola from the start and move Christian Pulisic in from the wing to a more central position alongside Darlington Nagbe.

However, Arena will probably stick with two up front — and if that’s the case, it should be Jordan Morris.

Morris may be the young gun on the pecking order for U.S. forwards, but he offers the most in this situation. His speed and on-the-ball skills give the USMNT attack the opportunity to stretch the field and play off of Wood — who is equally as quick in open-field situations.

Even with so much on the line, Morris has shown in big games before that he is capable of stepping up. Tuesday could be his next chance to do so.

How does the U.S. handle adversity?

Arena has lost just once since taking over his USMNT post for a second time, and Tuesday’s match will surely be the 65-year-old’s biggest test in Round 2 as manager.

Last week, I wrote about the U.S.’ chances of reaching Russia — which for the record, I believe they still will.

That doesn’t change the fact though that a loss or even draw against Honduras changes things drastically for the Yanks.

Here’s a look at how the table could look by the end of Tuesday if everything goes wrong for the U.S.

  1. Mexico — 18 points
  2. Costa Rica — 15 points
  3. Honduras — 11 points
  4. Panama — 10 points
  5. USMNT — 8 points
  6. Trinidad & Tobago — 3 points

In this scenario, the U.S. could theoretically fall to fifth place with a loss to Honduras, while Panama could also leap the Stars and Stripes with a home win over Trinidad. It’s impossible to say all of these situations will occur, but it’s not that far-fetched.

Trinidad has been the door mat of the Hexagonal, so Panama could surely take care of business at home. Meanwhile, Honduras is a very difficult place to play, and San Pedro Sula could surely stump the Americans for a draw or possibly worse.