In this piece, I will not defend Jurgen Klinsmann, nor his tactics, nor his players after they quit on him against Costa Rica. These two results, while entirely terrible for now, are not fatal to the US' chances of qualifying for the World Cup, at least not right now. That might sound like sacrilege, but the math and fixture list still plays into the US' favor.
In March, the US will host Honduras and travel to Panama. Certainly, Jurgen Klinsmann (if he's still the manager, which is probably the case) will be under the most pressure he's ever faced as US boss. He needs to get at least four points out of six in those two games, as he did in a similar March situation home to Costa Rica and at Mexico in March of 2013. Getting those four points will bring qualification right back on track. But, you might be wondering, how is that possible after two losses to start the campaign? Here's how:
The 15 year home unbeaten streak in qualifying was going to end at some point, as was Dos A Cero in Columbus (it should have ended with that Dempsey penalty in 2013 which he skied into the stands, but anyway). Mexico at home and Costa Rica away are two of the three hardest games in qualifying (with Mexico at Azteca being the other), and the US is done with two already. The best they ever do is three points out of six in these two games, and those three that they dropped this time can be made up elsewhere.
If the US takes the minimum of four points of out six in March, then they are faced with this slate to finish the Hex: home vs. T&T and at Mexico in June (right before Mexico goes to the Confederations Cup), home to Costa Rica and at Honduras in September, and home to Panama and away to T&T in October. Winning all of their home games and away to T&T would give them 16 points, which in the Hex era would be good for third and qualification to the World Cup every time but once (2002, which they would have finished fourth). Finishing first, second or third doesn't really matter, so long as they reach the top three, and if they do what they should be capable of doing even with a shaky Jurgen Klinsmann, they'll be on their way to Russia, though the journey will certainly be tumultuous.
In the above scenario, they can lose both away to Mexico and Honduras and still qualify, though they'd need a win on the last day of qualification a la 1989 in the same venue. But consider this: Honduras is not what they used to be, and has already lost at home to Panama. You cannot project the results of other teams, but form will not hold at least once or twice outside of USMNT games which right now can't be accounted for. But if the US, under Klinsmann or anyone else, does what they have to do and what they have done consistently in every Hex, they will be more than likely third, and that gets them to Russia, even if its by the skin of their teeth. And if they're fourth, they still have a playoff to play against an Asian team they should be able to beat over two legs.
"When you lose two games, there’s obviously some concern," Sunil Gulati said. "But Mexico qualified [for 2014] with 11 points. There’s a lot of points left on the board, 24 to be exact. As I’ve said the last two cycles, the sequence of games matters a lot, and we’ve had what one would consider our two toughest opponents early … I’d be more concerned if we didn’t have any points and it was some of the other opponents."
He's right, as much as many of us don't want him to be. He's right if Klinsmann keeps his job, and he's right if Bruce Arena or anyone else steps in. That assessment doesn't come from form or tactics, but just from the fixture list and history. It remains to be seen whether the US in its current state can meet that, but as of now there's no reason to think they can't.
Jurgen Klinsmann's job status will be debated endlessly for the next few days, but here's something that even though it may not seem it, can't be debated: if the US does their job, whoever their manager is, they are still favorites to qualify for the World Cup. Not overwhelming favorites, but favorites at any rate.
And for those of you who are desperately looking for a silver lining to cling on, that's one.