CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the bigger picture

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Most of us will focus on the United States tonight as Jurgen Klinsmann’s slightly understrength bunch tests itself at “The Office” in Jamaica, but that’s just one of six CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers tonight.

By midnight along the East Coast, half of the semifinal round qualifiers will be in the books.

Here’s the schedule for tonight.

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So, what are the important games? The short answer is “all of them.”

Two teams from each four-team group go through to next year’s final stage of qualifying – so there’s precious room for error.

  • When speaking of “precious little room for error,” Honduras is a great case in point: Los Catrachos are all the regional rage right now, having qualified for the last World Cup (2010 in South Africa) and won over fans with brave performances at the 2012 London Games. But all that acclaim means zilch now, and Luis Fernando Suarez’s team is already up to its Honduran elbows in trouble. (See standings below.) That’s because they lost at home straight away to Panama. A subsequent draw at Canada was helpful, but keeping up with Canada and Panama requires another road draw, at very least, today in Havana.
  • As for Canada, the region’s perennial World Cup underachievers have a golden opportunity to bully their way to the top of the group tonight. They face Panama at home. Stephen Hart’s team is healthy and fully aware of the significance of tonight’s test at BMO Field in Toronto.  We’ll have more on that one later.
  • El Salvador and Guatemala are at home, facing the weaklings of their groups (Guyana and Antigua & Barbuda). So El Salvador and Guatemala must win. Period. (And building some favorable goal difference wouldn’t hurt a thing.)
  • Mexico travels into San Jose, Costa Rica to meet the Ticos. An earlier draw at home (to lesser fancied El Salvador) has left Costa Rica vulnerable. They badly need a point Friday at the Estadio Nacional. Considering that Mexican star Giovani dos Santos is among Mexico’s injured attackers at the moment, the Ticos may just sneak away from the national stadium with all the points. A significant earthquake Wednesday outside the capital city initially raised fears over this one, but officials say it’s “game on.”

Here are the group standings as of this morning. They may look quite a bit different in 24 hours:

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