If you came for some sort of Backpass-style analysis of what the US Men’s National team might do tonight, or a prognostication on the starting lineup, or something, I ain’t doing that. I’m just using Burgundy Wave as a stand-in for plunking down $125 for an hour to talk to my therapist. So, feel free to stop reading, but I need a bit of a release right now or I might poop my pants.
I’m not alone. The whole country feels this way - or at least, through the lens of the soccer Twitter-verse, it certainly feels that way.
I've seen the Sheldon-hyperventilate-into-paper-bag gif 6 times this morning re: #USMNT . And it isn't even 7am yet.— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) March 24, 2017
The US picked up exactly zero points in its first two matches in the six-team CONCACAF playoff, AKA the Hex. They lost to Mexico at home in Columbus, 2-1 on November 11, 2016, and lost to Costa Rica away at San Jose, 4-0, on November 15. Here are the standings.
Over the next week, we play Honduras tonight in San Jose, CA, and Panama away in Panama City on March 28. The US pretty much needs, at the very least, two points from these matches to stay afloat. But realistically, anything short of 4 or 6 points and the team is still looking at an uphill climb to get the 3rd or 4th spot in the Hex. And that’s not easy. Roger Gonzalez gave a good rundown of what we need to do over at CBSsports.com, but in short, to get fourth place in the Hex back in 2014, Mexico needed 11 points in 10 matches.
If the US loses these two matches, then they would need at least three wins and two ties from the following matches: a home game against Trinidad and Tobago, a home game against group-leaders Costa Rica, a home game against Panama, an away game to Mexico, an away match to Honduras, and an away match against Trinidad and Tobago.
And that 3-2-1 record would still culminate in meeting the AFC fifth place team, who, based on the table there right now, could be South Korea, Uzbekistan, Syria, Australia, Japan, or the UAE. All of those options give me anxiety for a whole host of reasons.
Neither Honduras or Panama can be considered easy opponents. Honduras will likely bunker hard in a 5-3-2 and allow the US to dominate possession. They feature some really talented players like Roger Espinoza, Alberth Elias, and Romel Quioto; all of whom have found much success in MLS. They will aim to grind for a 0-0 on the road. And that forces the US to play aggressive, attacking soccer, finding tiny gaps in the defense or pouring in corners and crosses. We do have some nifty personnel to do that though. Here’s my best guess at our starting XI (I couldn’t resist a little tactics).
Howard; Villafana, Brooks, Gonzalez, Cameron;Bradley; Pulisic, Dempsey, Lletget; Altidore, Morris https://t.co/d1tujGYTFM— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) March 24, 2017
If the game come down to headers in the box, it makes me wish the US had brought Steve Birnbaum, but oh well.
And Panama? Oh no big deal, they just earned a draw with Mexico, 0-0 and beat Honduras on the road.
Israel faces Spain today as well, and Israel needs a win to have a shot at the two spots in their UEFA qualifying group. I bring this up because I have no hope that Israel will do this and qualify. And that’s personally more comforting than the situation the US is in.
I don’t expect Israel to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018. I (and everyone in the US) absolutely expects the US to qualify. If Israel loses today - well, it’s Spain. What did we expect? If the US loses, I will begin mentally preparing myself for the conversation I will have with my ‘vaguely-aware-of-soccer’ friends for the 4000 times I’m going to have to explain in the summer of 2018 why the US is not there. I expect a lot of people to say “What do you mean, they lost to Costa Rica? It’s a tropical jungle with a string of Club Med™ and Sandals™ resorts in between. We’re the Greatest Country in the World™!”
I do not want to have this conversation all summer.
So please, USMNT. Attack like the bejeezus. Get six points this week. Know that we’re all behind you, 300 million percent.
And also, we’re all hyperventilating over here. So please give us a reason to relax a little this weekend.