With just one match to play in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the U.S. men's national team has yet to seal a spot in Russia–but its standing is quite favorable in hopes of reaching an eighth straight World Cup.
The top three teams in CONCACAF receive automatic qualifying bids to the World Cup, while the No. 4 team enters an intercontinental playoff round. Entering the finale of the Hexagonal, the United States sits in third place with 12 points, two clear of fourth-place Panama and fifth-place Honduras. Mexico and Costa Rica have already qualified for the World Cup.
The Americans could not have been eliminated on Friday, nor could they have clinched a place in Russia, but their win–and a sizeable one–should prove to be a difference-maker for Bruce Arena's side.
The 4-0 triumph over Panama puts the USA in the driver's seat for third place. And the massive boost to goal differential means that even a draw vs. Trinidad & Tobago should be enough to put the USA through.
Here's how the USA can qualify for Russia, win, lose or draw in its finale:
Win: It's simple. Win, and the USA is in. The USA has qualified in Trinidad before–starting its streak of World Cup qualification in 1989 with Paul Caligiuri's famous goal.
Loss: A loss would be fairly catastrophic, but it would not necessarily eliminate the Americans from contention–it would leave them looking for help from Costa Rica and Mexico. Panama would need to beat Costa Rica Tuesday in order to bump the USA out of third. Honduras could bump the USA out of third as well with a win over Mexico. One of them winning and the USA losing would force the Americans into a playoff against either Australia or Syria. The death scenario: If the USA loses and Panama and Honduras both win, then the USA is out altogether. It's unlikely, but it's in play.
Draw: If the U.S. draws, it'll go to 13 points. A Panama win would bring Los Canaleros level on points, but the goal differential tiebreaker means it'd take a huge win over Costa Rica to pass the Americans. Honduras is in a similar boat, but in an even worse position than Panama. It would need to make up a 12-goal gap while beating Mexico and hoping the USA loses handily. It's quite unlikely, and in short, a draw should definitely send the USA through in third place.
6-0-3 (21 points)
2. *Costa Rica
6. Trinidad & Tobago
*Top three teams qualify automatically. Fourth plays Asia's fifth-place team in a two-legged playoff. Mexico and Costa Rica are already through.
Oct. 10 fixtures (all starts 8 p.m. ET)
Trinidad and Tobago vs. USA
Honduras vs. Mexico
Panama vs. Costa Rica
It'll all be decided Tuesday night.