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Orlando to Host USMNT's Last Home World Cup Qualifier

The U.S. men’s national team will conclude its home World Cup qualifying schedule in Orlando, U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday. 

The Americans will play the penultimate match of Concacaf’s Octagonal—an eight-team, double round robin that’ll send the top three finishers to the World Cup—on March 27 against Panama. The game at Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium will come between visits to the two countries where the U.S. has struggled the most historically: Mexico and Costa Rica.

“This city and these fans have been a huge advantage to us throughout the years. In our last home game of the Octagonal, we look forward to another special night of soccer,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.

The U.S. (4-1-3) sits second in the Octagonal heading into the upcoming window, which will comprise home games against El Salvador (Jan. 27 in Columbus, Ohio) and Honduras (Feb. 2 in St. Paul) and a trip to Hamilton, Ontario, to play first-place Canada (Jan. 30). 

Although there’s now some separation between the top half and bottom half of the Octagonal standings, the race for the three automatic berths is extremely tight. The fourth-place finisher will contest a one-game World Cup qualifying playoff against the Oceania representative—likely New Zealand—in June in Qatar.

The Americans are undefeated on home soil so far, but it was Panama that accounted for their only Octagonal defeat. A punchless, heavily-rotated U.S. side fell, 1-0, to Los Canaleros in humid conditions in Panama City three months ago.

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Coincidentally, Orlando hosted a U.S.-Panama qualifier four years ago at the same stage of the competition. Bruce Arena’s team pounded Panama there, 4–0, behind two goals from Jozy Altidore, putting itself in position to qualify for the 2018 World Cup with just a draw in the finale at Trinidad & Tobago. Disaster struck the languid Americans a few days later, however, suggesting that the easy win in Orlando left them overconfident rather than motivated.

The U.S. is 4-0-0 at Exploria Stadium and 5-2-0 in Orlando all-time. Its most recent game in Central Florida was a 7-0 exhibition demolition of Trinidad last January.

Here’s the updated U.S. qualifying schedule:

Sept. 2 at El Salvador, T 0-0
Sept. 5 vs. Canada, T 1-1
Sept. 8 at Honduras, W 4-1
Oct. 7 vs. Jamaica, W 2-0
Oct. 10 at Panama, L 0-1
Oct. 13 vs. Costa Rica, W 2-1
Nov. 12 vs. Mexico, W 2-0
Nov. 16 at Jamaica, T 1-1
Jan. 27 vs. El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio
Jan. 30 at Canada
Feb. 2 vs. Honduras in St. Paul
March 24 at Mexico
March 27 vs. Panama in Orlando
March 30 at Costa Rica

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