The halfway point of the third round of CONCACAF qualifying is upon us. By the end of Friday, all 12 of the remaining teams will be three matches into the six-match round. Some teams are already realistically eliminated by way of not being very good, but other teams will join them in the upcoming days if they dont come up with wins. That might include one of the region's powers, too.
Jamaica vs. USA, Guatemala vs. Antigua and Barbuda
The U.S. and Jamaica lead the group on four points, while Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda sit three points back. In reality, the Benna Boys have no chance of advancing, but Guatemala has a chance. They will be rooting for the Americans to take down the Reggae Boyz, but even if the U.S. helps them out, Guatemala needs to take care of business.
While the Chapines will be favored against Antigua and Barbuda, the Benna Boys kept things respectable in a 3-1 loss to the U.S. in Tampa and held the Jamaica to a scoreless draw. They have shown the ability to play with more talented teams by keeping numbers behind the ball and counterattacking quickly. That isn't great for Guatemala, which isn't particularly dynamic in the attack and like to defend themselves. Guatemala is undoubtedly the favorite, but if Marco Pappa and Gonzalo Romero can't find a way to breakdown Antigua and Barbuda then they might fall victim to a draw.
Costa Rica vs. Mexico, El Salvador vs. Guyana
The rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico gets all of the headlines, but El Tri and the Ticos have quite the rivalry of their own. Matches often turn feisty and they rarely go according to script. Mexico walked into Estadio Saprissa in the last four consecutive qualifying cycles and came away with a result and Costa Rica became the first team to win a qualifying match at Estadio Azteca with two late goals in 2001. Even just last year the two teams managed to kick each other for 90 minutes in a match that Mexico dominated.
Now Costa Rica is at Estadio Nacional, which isn't nearly as intimidating as Saprissa and Mexico is the undisputed best team in the region. Gerardo Torrado has been dug up from the national team grave because of injuries in the Mexico midfield, while Costa Rica is without Bryan Ruiz and struggling to combine some of their older players with their younger ones. That already has this match set to be odd and yet you can probably count on both teams coming to blows. It is probably the only sure thing when these two teams meet.
Elsewhere, El Salvador will have to come up with three points against Guyana. If they don't then they can quit the spot and Costa Rica can cruise to the final round of qualifying no matter what happens against El Tri.
Canada vs. Panama, Cuba vs. Honduras
Panama is sitting pretty with six points from three matches and one of their tougher matches, at Honduras already done. Canada is in second place with four points and Honduras is third with just one point, while Cuba is without a point.
Canada is searching for their first appearance in the final round of qualifying since 1998 and if they can come away with three points on Friday they just might do it. Josh Simpson is their only first choice player who will miss the match so they are relatively healthy and Dwayne De Rosario, Simeon Jackson and Atiba Hutchinson can challenge the Panama back line of Felipe Baloy, Luis Henriquez and Roman Torres. Canada will still have to break their streak of underwhelming whenever they need a result, but they have what it takes to get a huge win at BMO Field.
Meanwhile, Honduras has to get three points at Cuba. The Cubans have been surprisingly tough thus far in qualifying, losing in close 1-0 matches to Panama and Canada so they won't be easy to beat in Havana. But there is no doubt that the Catrachos need to put things together and get three points. Their loss at home to Panama put them in a hole and now they have to dig their way out of it.