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2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 10 months B.W.C.

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Can Germany become the first nation since Brazil (1958 and 1962) to repeat as World Cup winners? Can the Brazilians exorcise their demons of 7-1? Has the next wave of Spanish brilliance/impending dominance arrived?

Will Italy contend again after failing to advance from the group stage two tournaments in a row? Can one of the up-and-comers — Belgium, Colombia, Portugal or England — make good on years (decades, in England’s case) of promise and potential? What are the U.S. national team’s chances, assuming they manage to qualify?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

These are just a handful of the questions at the forefront of so many folks’ minds, as we now sit just over 10 months from the start of the 2018 World Cup. Beginning today (10 months B.W.C.), and following every international break leading up to next summer’s tournament in Russia, the PST staff will be keeping tabs on these stories, and more, in our World Cup Power Rankings.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — there are five or six sides with a genuine shot at being crowned world champions in July. As always, if you disagree with the final results, feel free to shout at all of the above, except me, on Twitter (links above).

Team Points Best Worst
Germany 116 1 3
Brazil 115 1 2
France 106 2 4
Spain 105 1 5
Belgium 91 4 10
Colombia 84 6 9
Italy 75 5 16
Portugal 72 5 16
Uruguay 71 7 11
Switzerland 61 9 13
Mexico 54 10 16
England 52 9 15
Nigeria 33 12 NR
Chile 33 7 NR
Costa Rica 23 14 NR
Japan 20 9 NR
Ivory Coast 16 14 NR
Peru 16 13 NR
Poland 12 12 NR
South Korea 9 16 NR

As you’ve probably already noticed, the USMNT didn’t make the final top-20 list. Here’s everyone’s thoughts on the USMNT, and where they slot in among 2018 hopefuls:

JPW: USA rank — 30th. The last international break summed up just how much work needs to be done between now and next summer if the USMNT qualifies for the World Cup. Getting out of the group stage would seem like a big achievement as things stand.

NM: USA rank — 25th. The U.S. entered September ranked 30th in ELO, and 26th by FIFA, though not every team in front of them will be going to Russia, either. If I project a 32-team field, placing the U.S. with a seeded team, a European team, and probably an African side or South American side (The U.S. has been in a pot with Asian sides the last two draws). In most scenarios, barring hosts Russia being in the U.S. group, I’d expect this current bunch to fail to reach the group stage. Of the teams who may make the field, I’d put U.S. hopes ahead of most of the Asian sides, one or two European sides, and another couple of African qualifiers.

KB: The United States is currently ranked 26th in FIFA, and that’s with a Gold Cup win that included a number of B squads. I would not put this current US team anywhere near the Top 20 until it shows it can win consistently against even mid-level sides like Honduras or Panama.

AE: USA rank — 22nd. Once you move past the top five or so sides — you know, the ones that actually have a chance of winning the World Cup — everyone is fatally flawed in any number of ways. The USMNT is no different than the rest of these, but with one favorable exception: 14 of the 23 players on the most recent roster have World Cup experience, with the majority of those having been to multiple finals tournaments. If/when they qualify, they’ll leapfrog a half-dozen other sides without that experience, making them a fringe Round of 16 side, if they get there.

MR: USA rank — 25th. Let’s face it. It’s been a difficult week for the USMNT, and while the squad is still very much in the running for a trip to Russia next summer Bruce Arena and Co. are crawling into the World Cup at this point. Solely judging this team off of what I believe they can be versus what they are right now, I’d say the U.S. can and should be a top 20 team heading into 2018, however, watching these last two matches have reiterated several of my previous concerns, especially in the central midfield. I’d put the U.S. somewhere around 25 in the field of 32 World Cup teams, assuming a bid to Russia is in the cards.

DK: USA rank — 19th. I had the USA in No. 19 because I actually am taking a more positive look at the draw in Honduras. The USA lost this game in the last World Cup cycle under Klinsmann and coming back on the road in the Honduran heat in a World Cup qualifier with everything on the line takes guts and determination. Just as the fortunes turned with the famed “snow game” in Denver against Costa Rica, perhaps this could be a moment like that for this USMNT team that basically needs to win out to ensure safe passage to the World Cup

Panama passes USMNT; World Cup scenarios

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This international break could hardly have gone worse for the United States men’s national team.

A home loss to Costa Rica was met Tuesday by an anything-but-encouraging 1-1 draw at Honduras, and CONCACAF’s other results put the U.S. outside the automatic qualifying places ahead of its final two matches of qualifying (home to Panama and away to Trinidad and Tobago).

[ USMNT: Recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Now a loss at home to Panama would limit the Americans hopes of qualifying for the World Cup to a playoff versus Australia or Syria at best, and that loss would need to be coupled by outdueling Honduras on points and goal differential during the final round.

Even a draw against Panama is problematic thanks to Los Canaleros moving past the USMNT on goal differential.

Costa Rica 1-1 Mexico

Los Ticos are not quite joining their visitors in the World Cup, but are a point away thanks to Marco Urena’s 83rd minute bullet equalizer. A Cristian Gamboa own goal has CRC waiting until October to punch its ticket to Russia.

Panama 3-0 Trinidad and Tobago

Gabriel Torres and Abdiel Arroyo goals joined a T&T own goal in moving Panama into third place with 10 points ahead of Los Canaleros‘ October 6 visit to Orlando.

STANDINGS

Mexico — 17 pts, +8 GD
Costa Rica — 15 pts, +7 GD
Panama — 10 pts, +2 GD (three automatic WC spots)
USMNT — 9 pts, +1 GD (playoff vs. Syria/Australia winner)
Honduras — 9 pts, -7 GD
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 pts, -11 GD

WHAT’S LEFT

The Yanks can pull two points ahead of Panama with a win in Orlando to kick off the next round of qualifying, and would be three points and a healthy amount of goal differential clear of Honduras should it win and see Costa Rica win at home vs. Honduras.

If the U.S. loses to Panama, it cannot finish in an automatic qualifying spot.

Oct. 6
USMNT vs. Panama
Costa Rica vs. Honduras
Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago

Oct. 10
Trinidad and Tobago vs. USMNT
Panama vs. Costa Rica
Honduras vs. Mexico

 

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

USMNT faces must-win trip to Honduras as World Cup qualification hangs in balance

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The United States’ loss to Costa Rica was a wake-up call, one that has raised yellow flags all around the U.S. soccer community, but not one that has doomed their 2018 World Cup hopes. Yet.

No, that loss has not deterred the hopes of the United States, but with Bruce Arena and the United States level on points with Honudras and just three games to go, this game in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday evening is now a must-win.

According to ESPN stat expert Paul Carr, the qualification chances for the United States still currently sit at 80%, but a loss to Honduras would plummet those chances to under 50/50, near 43%. Plain and simple, the US must win. Should they fail, not only would they be at best even with Honduras still, but Panama – currently just a point back – would likely be ahead, with a home date against Trinidad & Tobago on the docket.

[ MORE: UEFA qualification sees blowouts dot the map ]

They must get a result, and they must do it without their third all-time leading scorer Jozy Altidore, who is suspended for yellow card accumulation after his caution in the Costa Rica loss. Altidore left U.S. camp, returning to Toronto FC and leaving Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Chris Wondolowski the remaining strikers for Arena to pick from.

Arena must also address the numerous problems from the failure at Red Bull Arena, which include both tactical repairs and underperforming players. The most glaring issue was the spacing between center backs Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron, the latter of whom had a disastrous game, wandering aimlessly and giving the ball away profusely. Also an issue was the midfield, which was porous manned only by Michael Bradley and the offensively-minded Darlington Nagbe. Fabian Johnson was nearly invisible on the wing, moved up from his usual national team spot along the back line. Finally, Christian Pulisic was ineffective out wide, hacked repeatedly as many CONCACAF opponents have decided to do.

Meanwhile, Honduras is where they are thanks to a road victory over T&T last time out, with a quick 2-goal start and a solid finish. Midfielder Alexander Lopez was fantastic in central midfield, passing with a 95% accuracy including a trio of key passes and scoring a goal. They attacked with success down the right flank through Alfredo Mejia and Alberth Elis, the latter of whom also scored. Jorge Villafana will need to have a better game, after being substituted off after an hour with the U.S. struggling.

The heat and humidity in Honduras is also a factor in determining Arena’s lineup. On Monday, highs in San Pedro Sula reached 91 degrees with 82% humidity. The forecast for Tuesday is more of the same. Arena told reporters on Monday that domestic players could play a larger role since their fitness is at a heightened level being further into their season.

All these issues need to be navigated or corrected – and quickly – or else Arena’s job as stopgap manager will have fallen flat on its face.

Qualifying scenarios remaining for the USMNT after Friday’s defeat

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There was a clear negative to take away from Friday’s 2-0 home defeat against Costa Rica, and that was that with the loss the U.S. Men’s National Team is now in a precarious position in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ MORE: Three things from the USMNT’s defeat against Costa Rica ]

The loss did two things for Bruce Arena and his side. First, the U.S. now falls six points behind the Ticos in the Hexagonal, while Costa Rica has moved a giant step closer to Russia next summer.

On top of that, Mexico took care of business at home against Panama, with a 1-0 result, giving El Tri the first of three automatic spots in next year’s World Cup.

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

  1. Mexico — 17 points — +8 GD (Qualified for Russia)
  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

Barring something catastrophic, Costa Rica has done enough to book its place in Russia and mathematically the Ticos could lock up a place on Tuesday with a win over Mexico at the Estadio Nacional.

That leaves one spot remaining for direct qualification into the World Cup from North/Central America and a fourth spot that would result in a playoff against a team from Asia.

Despite the chaos the U.S. has inflicted upon itself after Friday’s loss, the Stars and Stripes still hold fate in their own hands. The team’s 6-0 victory over Honduras back in March helped the USMNT’s goal differential significantly, which is what separates the two nations at the moment as a tiebreaker.

With the U.S. and Honduras meeting on Tuesday, a win or draw is essentially a must for Arena and Co. Los Catrachos face a difficult schedule to close out the Hex, with matches against Costa Rica and Mexico looming in October, but the team could very well benefit from both teams having qualified for the World Cup when they take the field next month.

Panama has been a tricky team to judge this qualifying campaign because while they have just one victory to show for themselves, the Canaleros have taken points in five of their seven matches and only conceded five goals in that span.

It’s still hard to imagine Panama finishing in the top three because that would likely mean they’d have to obtain wins against the U.S. and Costa Rica, along with their upcoming match against Trinidad. It’s not impossible though.

Finally, Trinidad is in a similar boat as Panama, but they can’t even lean on a strong backline to cancel out the team’s lack of goalscoring. Trinidad has taken points in one of its seven qualifying matches, so for all intents and purposes we’ll say the Soca Warriors have very slim chances of reaching the World Cup.

Here’s my take on how the final Hex table will shape up to look like.

(Bold automatically qualifies for World Cup, underlined faces AFC nation in playoff)

  1. Mexico — 22 points
  2. Costa Rica — 18 points
  3. USMNT — 15 points
  4. Panama — 10 points (Edges Honduras on GD)
  5. Honduras  — 10 points
  6. Trinidad — 3 points

It’s just hard to imagine the U.S. not qualifying for the World Cup… If the Yanks fall on Tuesday at Honduras then perhaps the idea of it actually happening will move closer to reality, but until that occurs there’s still confidence on the end of this sports writer.

The U.S. will find a way to get a draw in San Pedro Sula, before pulling out victories against Panama and T&T next month. Regardless of your feelings about the USMNT, there is still plenty of talent in the squad and there’s no reason to believe that the Stars and Stripes won’t qualify for Russia, especially given CONCACAF’s qualifying set up.