Bruce Arena has a huge task ahead of him that starts on Friday night in San Jose. He will be attempting to do what only one team has done in the history of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal final round of World Cup qualifying. He will be attempting to recover from a pointless start after the first two games of the Hex.
In fact, only one team has ever had a worse start in the Hex than the U.S. this time around. Canada lost their first two games in 1997 and had a goal difference of -7 going into their third match. It never got much better for Bob Lenarduzzi’s squad as they only won one match out of ten and finished with six points.
Trinidad and Tobago’s qualification for the 2006 World Cup came from an identical position as the U.S. sits in today. With zero points and a goal difference of -5, the Soca Warriors won three of their last four matches to finish in fourth place in the Hex. That finish earned them an inter-continental playoff series with Bahrain. Dennis Lawrence’s goal in the away leg sent Trinidad and Tobago to their only World Cup.
The 2005 Hexagonal had another anomaly. It was the only time that the team in second place after the first two matches did not reach the World Cup. Guatemala was on four points with a +4 goal difference after two games, but they only earned seven more points in the next eight games to finish in fifth place.
In addition to all but one team in second place after two matches qualifying, every team that was in first place after two matches has qualified for the World Cup. Things look good for Costa Rica this time around as they are in the top spot with six points going into the third matchday.
There is one piece of optimism for the U.S. though when you look back at Hexagonal history. In the last three World Cup qualifying campaigns, the team that was in last place after the first two matches has qualified for the World Cup. The aforementioned Trinidad and Tobago team qualified for the 2006 World Cup from the worst position, but Honduras in 2010 and Costa Rica in 2014 each qualified after earning only one point in their first two matches.