For the U.S. national team, the sixth CONCACAF Hexagonal will kick off like two of its predecessors—with a meeting against rival Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. There is no higher-profile, regularly scheduled soccer game on American soil than this quadrennial qualifier, and in the Crew’s Mapfre Stadium, the U.S. Soccer Federation seems to have found a fortress as forbidding as the Azteca.
In this familiar setting on Nov. 11, the Americans will seek a familiar result. They’re on a run of four straight “dos a ceros” in Columbus. The U.S. then will head to Costa Rica, where it’s similarly consistent. In five Hexagonal matches in San Jose, the U.S. is 0-5-0. And most of them haven’t been close.
Such is the nature of the Hex, the qualifying slog in a top-heavy region where home-field advantage is significant and the same nations, results and faces (does anyone really believe Carlos Ruiz is retiring?) continue to pop up. This year’s sextet—USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago—includes five of the participants from 2013, five from 2009 and five from 2005. The Americans know the airports, the hotels and the stadiums in each country and won’t be caught by surprise. They’re aware of what’s ahead. The only twist is that this time the journey starts three months earlier, in November rather than February.
The Americans will be happy with the schedule. Opening with three points against Mexico will set the tone, and each of the five pairs of qualifiers starts with a Friday home game, meaning the team can stay in the U.S. and train without having to fly out and back. Logistically and competitively, there are no excuses. The Hex isn’t easy, but a 10-game slate provides cushion against the inevitable setback or two. In the end, the result has been consistent—the U.S. qualifies. It’s one of only seven nations that has participated in each of the past seven tournaments, and it’s finished first in each of the past three Hexagonals.
The top three finishers following the double round robin will book their tickets to Russia. The fourth place team will face a home-and-home playoff against an Asian counterpart.
Here’s a closer look at the U.S. schedule and the long and familiar road to the 2018 World Cup:
Nov. 11 vs. Mexico in Columbus, Ohio; Nov. 15 at Costa Rica
There’s no chance U.S. Soccer will mess with the tradition established in Columbus, which has hosted the past four qualifiers against Mexico. El Tri has yet to score there, and the existence of some Mapfre Stadium mojo becomes all the more apparent when you look at outcomes at other venues. This decade, the Americans are just 1-2-2 against El Tri elsewhere in the U.S.
Continuing that Columbus run will be vital, because three points in Costa Rica may be impossible to come by. The Americans surely don’t miss playing in the cauldron that is the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, but Costa Rica’s move down to the Estadio Nacional, which is now five years old, didn’t produce better results. Los Ticos took a third-minute lead and thumped the U.S., 3-1, in September 2013. The U.S. and Costa Rica were the only teams to go 5-0-0 at home in the 2013 Hex.
U.S. Soccer in 2016: USMNT and USWNT year in photos
Klinsmann fired, replaced by Arena
Jurgen Klinsmann was fired after the USA's World Cup qualifying loss in Costa Rica, bringing an end to more than five years in charge. He was replaced by Bruce Arena, who returns to the bench after coaching the USA from 1998-2006.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, November 15
The dejected faces on Bobby Wood, left, and John Brooks say it all, as the U.S. drops to 0-2-0 in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal following a 4-0 loss and embarrassment at Costa Rica.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 13
Morgan Brian gets a congratulatory hug after her converted penalty kick, which helped the U.S. women close out 2016 with a 5-0 rout of Romania at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
USMNT vs. Mexico, November 11
Mexico players celebrate Rafa Marquez's late winner, which delivered a 2-1 triumph for El Tri over the USA to open the CONCACAF Hexagonal. It ended years of U.S. domination over Mexico in Columbus.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 10
Crystal Dunn congratulates Christen Press on one of her three goals as the USA handled Romania with ease, winning 8-1 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 23
Carli Lloyd gets a hearty welcome after scoring on a long-range blast to kick-start the U.S. in a 5-1 rout of Switzerland in Minneapolis.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 19
A new-look U.S. women's team routed Switzerland 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with Samantha Mewis (3) at the center of the celebrations after scoring the final goal of four-goal second half.
USMNT vs. New Zealand, October 11
Julian Green is congratulated by captain Michael Bradley after scoring the opener, but the U.S. was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw vs. New Zealand in the last game before the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal kicks off.
USMNT vs. Cuba, October 7
Chris Wondolowski scored a goal and assisted on another, as the USA continued World Cup qualifying preparations by beating Cuba 2-0 in a historic friendly in Havana.
USWNT vs. Netherlands, September 18
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal that kicks off the scoring for the USA in a 3-1 win over the Netherlands at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
U.S. women's national team co-captain Carli Lloyd happily signs autographs after scoring a hat trick in a 9-0 romp over Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
Megan Rapinoe kneels for the national anthem ahead of the U.S. women's national team's match vs. Thailand, continuing her public protest in line with that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
USMNT vs. Trinidad & Tobago, September 6
Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan celebrate during a 4-0 win, which cemented the USA's place atop its World Cup qualifying group and a berth in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
Hope Solo's USWNT contract terminated
Following the USWNT's Olympic loss to Sweden, Hope Solo lashed out at the opposition, calling them "cowards" and drawing the ire of U.S. Soccer. The incident pushed the federation over the edge, and it terminated the goalkeeper's contract while suspending her six months–meaning any chance at reinstatement won't be possible until February.
USWNT vs. Sweden, August 12
The long and stunned faces say it all, as the U.S. women try to comprehend a penalty-kick loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals. The 4-3 PK defeat after a 1-1 draw marked the earliest ouster for the U.S. women in a major competition ever.
USWNT vs. Colombia, August 9
Hope Solo lets a Catalina Usme free kick slip through her hands and legs in a shocking 2-2 draw. The USA still won its Olympic group despite the slip-up.
USWNT vs. France, August 6
Carli Lloyd scores the only goal in a 1-0 win over a stout France side to punch the USA's ticket to the knockout stage at the Olympics.
USWNT vs. New Zealand, August 3
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal in the USA's 2-0 win over New Zealand in their opening match of group play at the Olympics. Alex Morgan doubled the USA's lead in the second half.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, July 22
Christen Press and Carli Lloyd celebrate an easy 4-0 win, which sent the U.S. on its way to Rio with an unbeaten record in 2016.
USWNT vs. South Africa, July 9
Hope Solo salutes the crowd after posting the 100th clean sheet of her career in a 1-0 win in Chicago. Crystal Dunn scored the lone goal.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 25
For a second time at Copa America, the USA falls to Colombia, with Carlos Bacca's goal the difference in a 1-0 result in the third-place match in Arizona.
USMNT vs. Argentina, June 21
Lionel Messi converts an incredible free kick to punctuate a dominant performance for Argentina against the USA in the Copa America semifinals.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, June 16
Goal scorers Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes share a celebratory hug with Matt Besler in the Copa America quarterfinals, where the Americans held on for a 2-1 win and a place in the semis.
USMNT vs. Paraguay, June 11
Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal in a 1-0 win over Paraguay, which secured the USA's place in the Copa America knockout stage.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, June 7
Bobby Wood caps a dominating first half for the USA in a must-win game vs. Costa Rica in Chicago at Copa America. Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi also scored.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 5
Co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn defends as the U.S. bounces back to shut out Japan 2-0 in a rain-shortened friendly in Cleveland.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 3
James Rodriguez beats Brad Guzan from the penalty spot in Colombia's 2-0 win over the USA to open Copa America Centenario.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 2
Lindsey Horan heads the USA in front to cap a comeback from two goals down, but the Americans conceded in extra time to 10-woman Japan, settling for a 3-3 draw.
USMNT vs. Bolivia, May 29
Christian Pulisic scores his first international goal in the USA's 4-0 win over Bolivia in a final tune-up for Copa America. Gyasi Zardes scored twice, and John Brooks added one of his own in the triumph.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, May 25
Darlington Nagbe is hugged by Christian Pulisic after his 90th-minute volley delivers a 1-0 victory for the USA in a pre-Copa America friendly.
USMNT vs. Puerto Rico, May 22
Tim Ream scores the opening goal in the USA's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico in the first meeting between the two sides. Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola scored as well.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 10
Julie Johnston, left, is mobbed after one of her two goals in a 3-0 USA win at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 6
Allie Long, left scores twice, and five other players score as well in a 7-0 rout of Colombia in East Hartford, Connecticut.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Christian Pulisic, 17, makes his U.S. debut in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, becoming cap-tied to the USA. He was otherwise eligible for Croatia.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore celebrate during a thorough 4-0 World Cup qualifying win, putting the USA's campaign back on track after the setback in Guatemala.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 25
There was no way through for DeAndre Yedlin and the USA during a 2-0 loss in Guatemala in what was a stunning setback in the Americans' World Cup qualifying campaign.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The USWNT celebrates the inaugural SheBelieves Cup title after beating European powers England, France and Germany in succession.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The U.S. celebrates Alex Morgan's equalizer vs. Germany in the SheBelieves Cup in Boca Raton, Florida. Samantha Mewis's winner a few minutes later cemented the Americans' overall triumph in the competition.
USWNT vs. France, March 6
Alex Morgan scores the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over France in the second game of the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, Tennessee.
USWNT vs. England, March 3
Crystal Dunn is mobbed after her game-winning goal kicks off the SheBelieves Cup in a 1-0 triumph in Tampa Bay, Florida.
USWNT vs. Canada, February 21
Lindsey Horan celebrates her goal that helps the USA to a 2-0 win over Canada and a first-place finish in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago, February 19
Alex Morgan celebrates one of her three goals that helped the U.S. clinch a berth in the 2016 Olympics after a 5-0 triumph in Houston.
USWNT vs. Puerto Rico, February 15
Crystal Dunn scores one of her five goals, tying a single-game U.S. record in a 10-0 rout to close group play in Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Mexico, February 13
The U.S. needed a penalty kick from Carli Lloyd to beat Mexico 1-0 in the second match of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, February 10
Alex Morgan scores the fastest goal in U.S. history, netting 12 seconds into the USWNT's Olympic qualifying campaign and sending the Americans on their way to a 5-0 win.
USMNT vs. Canada, February 5
Jozy Altidore heads in the winner to secure a 1-0 win over Canada at StubHub Center to cap the annual winter training camp.
USMNT vs. Iceland, January 31
Steve Birnbaum heads in a late winner in a 3-2 victory over Iceland in the opening match of the year.
USWNT vs. Ireland, January 23
17-year-old Mallory Pugh scores on her debut, helping cap a 5-0 win for the USA to open the year. Carli Lloyd led the way with a hat trick, and Alex Morgan scored as well in San Diego.
March 24 vs. Honduras; March 28 at Panama
In September 2001, the U.S. fell to Honduras, 3-2, in a World Cup qualifier in Washington, D.C. Earnie Stewart staked the hosts to a 7th-minute lead, but then missed a penalty kick as halftime beckoned. Los Catrachos emerged revitalized from the RFK Stadium locker room and broke open a 1-1 deadlock, scoring twice. The game is notable for two reasons: It was the first World Cup qualifying start for a 19-year-old forward named Landon Donovan, and it was the last time the U.S. lost a home qualifier.
Since then, the Americans are 7-0-0 against Honduras on U.S. soil in official competition. But expect that ’01 setback to be brought up again next March, and expect this qualifier to be crucial if the U.S. falls in Costa Rica.
A trip to Panama follows, which naturally will bring back memories of the improbable “San Zusi” comeback in 2013. Second half stoppage time goals from Graham Zusi and Aron Jóhannsson resulted in a 3-2 win that was cosmetic for the U.S. but absolutely devastating to Los Canaleros. Panama missed out on a place in a qualifying playoff against New Zealand, paving the way for Mexico to reach Brazil. There is no “revenge” for that kind of setback, but look for Panama to be highly motivated.
The March timing will be challenging for MLS players, who will be less than a month into their seasons.
June 9 vs. Trinidad & Tobago; June 13 at Mexico
June brings another fortunate bit of scheduling—a game against Trinidad that should be the Americans’ easiest of the Hex coming a few days before the daunting trip to Mexico City.
The U.S. beat the Soca Warriors 4-0 on Tuesday evening in Jacksonville, Florida, and is 12-0-1 all-time at home against the Hex’s lone Caribbean participant. Klinsmann certainly won’t take T&T lightly—not after the embarrassing Gold Cup loss to Jamaica in 2015—but he’ll surely have one eye on the challenge at the Azteca a few days later.
Klinsmann’s decision to take the U.S. to Mexico City for a 2012 friendly was curious, brilliant and set the tone for his ambitious administration. The Americans won for the first and only time at the imposing stadium on a late goal by Michael Orozco.
There’s been considerable roster turnover since then, however, and El Tri surely will approach a qualifier much differently then a mid-cycle friendly.
Mexico was unfortunate to have to settle for a 0-0 draw there in the 2013 qualifier between the sides, which it dominated.
Sept. 1 vs. Costa Rica; Sept. 5 at Honduras
The European seasons will have just gotten underway as the U.S. faces off against the two Central American powers. Sandwiched between trips to Mexico and Honduras, the Costa Rica game will be big for the U.S. For all the trouble Los Ticos have posed on the road, they’ve been far easier to tame on American soil. June’s 4-0 Copa América Centenario rout lifted the U.S. to a 10-0-2 home record against Costa Rica in official competition over the past two decades.
Four years ago, a 2-1 Hex-opening setback in Honduras marked the first real low point of Klinsmann’s tenure. The Americans seemed unprepared for the opponent or conditions in San Pedro Sula and needed the ensuing SnowClasico triumph over Costa Rica and a lot of good fortune in Mexico City to turn their qualifying campaign around. Overall, however, the history isn’t as frightening. The U.S. won in San Pedro Sula in 2009, clinching its spot at the World Cup, and beat the Hondurans, 2-1, in a 2001 qualifier.
Oct. 6 vs. Panama; Oct. 10 at Trinidad & Tobago
Any ground lost in Honduras or Mexico City will have to be made up in October, when both MLS and European players should be fit and ready. The Americans recently have had some strange struggles against Panama on home soil, falling on penalty kicks in the 2015 Gold Cup bronze medal match, tying earlier in the tournament and losing a Gold Cup group stage game in 2011. However, the U.S. is 11-1-4 all-time against Los Canaleros and will be favored to take all three points.
If it comes down to the finale in Trinidad, comparisons with the famous 1989 game and Paul Caligiuri’s “Shot Heard Round the World” will be inevitable. The U.S. won that day, drew Trinidad, 0-0, last November in Port of Spain and hasn’t lost in the capital since 1994.
The U.S. has never needed a result in its Hexagonal finale. That’s another qualifying tradition Klinsmann would love to see continue.