The rest of the way: USMNT’s road map to the World Cup

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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The United States is 60 percent through the final round of World Cup qualifying, 10 percent further than two-thirds of the field.

All six sides will be on even footing in terms of matches played by the stroke of Midnight on Tuesday.

The magic number for an automatic World Cup spot and the fourth-place spot and an inter-confederation match versus the fifth-best Asian side can be figured out within a reasonable margin.

Since the start of the Hex, the third-place sides have won the following amount of points: 15, 16, 16, 17, 14.

The fourth-place sides have claimed 11, 16, 13, and 14 (The fourth place team in 1998, Costa Rica, won 12 points but that tournament only permitted three CONCACAF teams to advance to France).

Here’s how the Americans finish the Hex (Standings here):

Sept. 1 — HOME vs. Costa Rica (TBA)
Sept. 5 — AWAY to Honduras
Oct. 6 — HOME vs. Panama (Orlando, Fla.)
Oct. 10 — AWAY to Trinidad and Tobago

The story here, as always, is simple but not easy. The Yanks have won their last three home World Cup qualifiers against Panama by scores of 2-0, 2-0, and 6-0. In the same stretch, the Americans are 2W-2D versus Costa Rica at home.

As for trips to Honduras, the U.S. lost its last Hex match there but won the previous two. The Americans are 3W-2D-1L in its last six World Cup qualifiers at Trinidad and Tobago.

Given how the Yanks have traditionally fared at home, it would be stunning if they failed to claim four of six points from the final two matches. And it’s reasonable to expect they beat either Honduras or T&T for another three points.

Overall, another three wins would make it fairly improbable that the Americans would fail to qualify for Russia. Two wins and a draw could also do the trick. Anything less is extremely dicey in the race for third.

U.S. fans should root for Honduras to get a draw out of Panama on Tuesday. It would be terrific for T&T to do the same in Costa Rica, but that would be asking a lot of the Soca Warriors (granted they’ll be desperate).