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USMNT World Cup qualification scenarios

Winning two games is the easiest option, but after that it gets tricky.

United States v El Salvador: Quarterfinal - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

When the United States takes the field in Orlando tomorrow night to take on Panama, winning will be the only thing on their minds and that of the 25,000 fans in attendance. At stake: a spot in the 2018 World Cup. A win puts that dream firmly within reach, while a draw or loss would see the odds of the USMNT qualifying for Russia take a serious hit.

The CONCACAF Hexagonal round is in its final days, and 6 matches over the course of the next week will determine who from the region will head to the World Cup, which team will face off against Australia or Syria in an inter-confederation playoff, and which two teams will see their dream end. We examine the scenarios on how the USMNT can qualify for the World Cup.

First, the standings:

Source: U.S. Soccer

The United States sit in 4th place, one point behind tomorrow’s opponent, Panama. They are equal on points with 5th place Honduras, but hold a +8 advantage in goal differential. Mexico has already qualified for the World Cup, while Costa Rica has clinched at least a spot in the inter-confederation playoff and can clinch an automatic spot with a draw tomorrow. Only Trinidad and Tobago, America’s opponent on October 10th, has seen their World Cup dreams end.

Let’s break down each possibility for the United States to finish in 3rd or 4th:

WIN vs. Panama, WIN at Trinidad & Tobago

Do this, and the USMNT will clinch 3rd place and an automatic World Cup spot unless Honduras also wins both its games (at Costa Rica, vs. Mexico) and does so while making up a minimum 9-goal deficit in the goal differential column. This is unlikely, so simply put: we win both, we’re 99.9% in as the 3rd place finisher.

WIN vs. Panama, DRAW at Trinidad & Tobago

This scenario will see us finish in 3rd place so long as Panama doesn’t beat Costa Rica on October 10th and Honduras gains no more than 4 points from their two matches (and doesn’t make up the goal differential). If Panama wins against Los Ticos and finishes with a greater goal differential than the USMNT, they would end up 3rd and the United States would finish 4th and head to the playoff.

DRAW vs. Panama, WIN at Trinidad & Tobago

This clinches 3rd place for the Americans provided Panama doesn’t win against Costa Rica and Honduras gets no more than 4 points from their two matches (and doesn’t make up the goal differential). If Panama wins against Costa Rica, they’re in 4th place.

WIN vs. Panama, LOSS at Trinidad & Tobago

Under this scenario, the USMNT will need a Panama loss or draw against Costa Rica and for Honduras to get no more than 3 points against Costa Rica and Mexico to end up in 3rd place. If Panama wins against Costa Rica, the USMNT will finish 4th.

LOSS vs. Panama, WIN at Trinidad & Tobago

Any loss at home to Panama, and panic time will ensue. Panama would clinch a spot in the World Cup by securing 3rd place, and it will be left to the United States to win at Trinidad and Tobago and hope that Honduras doesn’t get any more than 3 points and doesn’t make up the goal differential.

So, there’s a lot of ways the USMNT can qualify for the World Cup, but most of them begin with a win tomorrow against Panama. Win, and we control our own destiny. Lose, and our chances of representing in Russia next summer take a serious hit.

Yes, this game is a huge deal. Tomorrow is one of the biggest games in U.S. Soccer history. Let’s get ready.