Friday, November 9, 2012


Last night brought the draw for the fourth round of Concacaf qualifying -- known to its friends as The Hex -- for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Matches don't start until February, but in a brazen bit of stealing from myself, here's my knee-jerk, completely speculative projection on how the last round of qualifying will go.
@ Honduras: MLS players will be short on match fitness in early February, so Klinsmann had damn well better hold Camp Toaster Strudel. The US nicks a goal but concedes late and it finishes 1-1.

vs. Costa Rica: As suggested by SBI, Salt Lake City is almost ideal for this match -- friendly crowd, at altitude and should still be fairly cool in late March. The US gets pushed hard by the Ticos but wins 2-1.

@ Mexico: Think El Tri and its fans will be up for this one? Jermaine Jones gets sent off in the first half and Mexico wins 2-0. The more reactionary US fans express Great Concern on message boards.

@ Jamaica: Our friends the Reggae Boyz will host Mexico three days prior, what with El Tri running off to the Confederations Cup (which we've all established no one cares about, right?). Odds are Jamaica will still be stinging after a loss and in no mood to party. Hopefully Klinsmann remembers to pack a few extra wide players, just in case. It finishes 1-1 and BigSoccer is inundated by hotlinked images of panic buttons.

vs. Panama: Reactionaries will declare this game a must-win; realists will remind the reactionaries that every home game in the Hex is a must-win. Even with Blas Perez leading the line, Panama at home is about as close to a get-well game there as is at this point. The US wins 3-1 and goes into the second half of the Hex with eight points, roughly halfway to Brazil.

vs. Honduras: For all the talent Honduras has, it's only beaten the US twice in the MLS Era -- the DC Debacle in 2001 and a friendly after the 2010 Camp Cupcake -- and three times overall. So why does this game scream "trap?" Maybe the intensity of three qualifiers in 11 days is a lot to ask, especially of guys coming off a long European season. (Then again, Mexico has to go to Jamaica and Panama and host Costa Rica in the space of a week before the Confederations Cup, so who knows what that will do to their heads, let alone their bodies.) US 1-1 Honduras and a summer full of Squeaky Bum Time awaits.

@ Costa Rica: If any Concacaf team has the US's number, it's Costa Rica, not Mexico. The US is winless in its last five against the Ticos (the earlier projection notwithstanding) and hasn't left Costa Rica with so much as a point since 1992. Things go poorly, Costa Rica wins 3-0 and "Klinsmann out" becomes more than just the US coach's sign-off when he fills in for Ryan Seacrest.

vs. Mexico: One of the biggest selling points of the Klinsmann era is that his teams get results when they absolutely have to have them. These last three games will put that assertion to its stiffest test yet. Of course this one takes place at Crew Stadium. Chicarito scores early but the US rallies, winning 2-1 and keeping the Columbus mystique alive.

vs. Jamaica: Rough as the Hex draw was to the US, it could've done far worse than playing Jamaica and Panama in the final week. This one seems like a good fit for Kansas City, especially if the weather turns cold. The US grinds out another 1-0 home win over Jamaica and in all likelihood secures a place at the World Cup.

@ Panama: All three US visits to Panama City have been fruitful, yielding two wins and a draw. Unless the US needs this result to qualify (and it shouldn't), expect to see the backups and anyone urgently needing to be cap-tied. The US wins 2-1 as Eddie Johnson nods in two goals and begins his campaign to go to a second World Cup.

Mexico 7W-2D-1L 20 GF 6 GA 23 points
Costa Rica 6-2-2 17 GF 9 GA 20 points
USA 5-3-2 13 GF 13 GA 18 points
Honduras 1-6-3 10 GF 13 GA 10 points (loses qualifying playoff to Oceania winner New Zealand)
Jamaica 1-3-6 5 GF 13 GA 6 points
Panama 1-2-7 6 GF 17 GA 5 points

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