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When and how the USA can clinch its place in the final round of World Cup qualifying

With a 4-0 victory Tuesday night over Guatemala, USMNT fans can now turn their attention to a pair of September matches that will decide the team's fate.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The home-and-away series against Guatemala this past week -- part of CONCACAF's Fourth Round of 2018 World Cup Qualifying -- has been more eventful than fans expected. A 2-0 loss in Guatemala City created a good deal of alarm re: the Americans' chances of reaching the Hex, while Tuesday night's 4-0 win put them back on track to reach CONCACAF's final ten matches to determine who represents the region in Russia.

Here are the facts as they stand, four matches into the six-match round:

Trinidad & Tobago leads the group with 10 points and a goal differential of +8.

The Americans are second in the group with 7 points and a goal differential of +7.

Guatemala is third in the group with 6 points and a goal differential of +1.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is terrible at soccer: Zero points and a goal differential of -16 through four games.

The remaining two matches for the Fourth Round calendar take place Sept. 2 and 6. On the 2nd, the U.S. travels to the Caribbean while Trinidad & Tobago host Guatemala. Then, on the 6th, the U.S. welcomes T&T to Jacksonville while Guatemala hosts St. Vincent.

The best scenario:

Also, perhaps, the most likely scenario -- the U.S. and T&T both win on Sept. 2, allowing both victors to clinch their spots in the Hex, putting the U.S. in range of winning the group should it win on the 6th. (T&T could also clinch a spot on the 2nd with a draw, leaving the U.S. in need of at least a draw against T&T to advance.)

The slightly-troublesome scenario:

Should Guatemala and the U.S. win on the 2nd, it leaves T&T and the U.S with 10 points and Guatemala with 9. Assuming Guatemala beats St. Vincent on the 6th, and finishes the Fourth Round with 12 points, the loser of the U.S.-T&T match would be out, and if the U.S. and T&T draw, the team with the lowest goal differential would miss out on the Hex. This would likely be T&T, assuming that the U.S. beats St. Vincent by more than a one-goal margin. (Note: In their previous Fourth Round matchup, the U.S. and T&T drew.)

The klaxons-ringing, #JurgenOut scenario:

Should St. Vincent somehow beat the U.S., it would be left with 7 points heading into its final match, but could beat T&T and still get into the Hex with 10 points, if T&T beats Guatemala on the 2nd. There's also a scenario in which Guatemala beats T&T, has 9 points heading into its match with St. Vincent, and a victorious Guatemala and the U.S. advance.


So, while the Guatemala victory over the U.S. is allowing Guatemala to hang around in several semi-plausible scenarios, the U.S. and T&T still have the inside lane into the Hex. The difference between relief and panic hinges on what happens between T&T and Guatemala on the 2nd.