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Time to Fret Over the U.S. National Team?

October 2nd, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

You bet. Start worrying now, if you are not already doing so.

Only four days till the U.S. national team plays host to Panama, only eight days until an away game with Trinidad & Tobago, as Concacaf hexagonal qualifying for the 2018 World Cup concludes.

At stake, the U.S. streak of seven consecutive World Cup appearances that goes back to 1990.

At risk, vengeance aimed at the Yanks for crucial road victories that kept Panama (in 2014) and T&T (1990) from qualifying for the World Cup — which would have been a first for either country.

The pressure is on, and this group of U.S. players has not seemed adept at coping with it.

Some of the issues:

–The U.S. sits fourth in the hexagonal, and only the top three in the final standings are guaranteed berths in Russia 2018. Panama has 10 points and the U.S. and Honduras have nine. Panama could clinch a place in Russia with a victory Friday, combined with a Honduras defeat in Costa Rica.

–The Yanks and Panama have played to four consecutive 1-1 draws, which is not a good sign because another draw would leave the Americans in fourth place, at best. The U.S. needs to end that streak of draws.

–For the first time, the U.S. is playing a competitive game in Orlando. Why the U.S. Soccer Federation chose such an unfamiliar but warm place for what is a crucial match is unclear. It might have been arrogance, because Orlando in early October might feel quite a bit like home, to the Panamanians.

–Then we have the vengeance issues. Four years ago, the U.S. — already qualified for Brazil 2014 — overcame a 2-1 deficit with a pair of goals in added time to win 3-2 and knock Panama out of contention and lift Mexico into the inter-confederation playoffs and a victory. Twenty-eight years ago, T&T needed only a draw at home to go to Italy 1990, but the U.S. won 1-0 on Paul Caligiuri’s Shot Heard Round the World and those souvenir “Italia 1990” hats on sale in Port of Spain ended up in the trash. (Aside from those purchased by Americans, like me.)

–The only way the Americans can be sure of finishing in the top three is by winning twice. Which doesn’t seem like a lot to ask from a big country playing two quite small ones … but the U.S. national team has only two victories in the first eight match days in the hex.

Anything less than six points by Bruce Arena’s team leaves it requiring help to finish third. Particularly handy would be Costa Rica defeating Honduras on Friday and then winning in Panama City on October 10. (Go, Ticos!)

The permutations for finishing fourth and gaining the World Cup inter-confederation playoffs slot (versus Australia or Syria; winner goes to Russia) are complex, but the U.S. winning at least one of these two would likely leave them fourth.

You are not alone in demanding (but not expecting) that this team will rise to the occasion.

Alexi Lalas let go with the now-infamous “soft, under-performing, tattooed millionaires” rant after the home defeat to Costa Rica and away draw at Honduras last month, calling out a half-dozen players. Here it is.

The core of it is this: “You are a soccer generation that has been given everything; you are a soccer generation who is on the verge of squandering everything.”

More on this, later in the week.




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