The qualifying road ends tomorrow for the United States Men’s National Team as they head down to Costa Rica to finish off a grueling 14-match Octagonal schedule. The goal is clear for the U.S., avoid a catastrophic six-goal loss against Los Ticos and officially punch your ticket to the World Cup.
If things go completely wrong and somehow all the mathematical formulas come crashing down against Gregg Berhalter’s side, they have a place in the intercontinental playoff secured. However, let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.
Here are the Octagonal standings heading into the final matchday:
While the U.S. still has faint hopes of getting top of the group, they would need a minor miracle of not only winning in Costa Rica but hoping Canada loses and makes up the differential of four goals. That will be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, however, as the main goal is to avoid embarrassment in San Jose and secure an automatic place in Qatar.
W (5-1) - Panama - World Cup Qualifying
D (0-0) - Mexico - World Cup Qualifying
W (3-0) - Honduras - World Cup Qualifying
L (0-2) - Canada - World Cup Qualifying
W (1-0) - El Salvador - World Cup Qualifying
W (2-1) - El Salvador - World Cup Qualifying
W (1-0) - Canada - World Cup Qualifying
W (1-0) - Jamaica - World Cup Qualifying
D (0-0) - Mexico - World Cup Qualifying
W (1-0) - Panama - World Cup Qualifying
What to Watch For
Going into a 90-minute contest knowing all you need to do is avoid losing by six goals can be quite the conundrum for a manager. Do you treat it at face value and do everything you can to avoid leaking goals? Do you act as if it’s a normal match and play on the front foot? Berhalter didn’t shy away from telling his side to press high up the field at Estadio Azteca. He threw caution out the window in the first half and there were definitely moments where the Americans looked vulnerable on the counter. Will he do the same when daring the flood gates to open could spell disaster?
Managing the Mileage
On the third matchday in six days with two long flights in between, there are bound to be some heavy legs within the squad. Surely there will be some kind of rotation with the lineup that beat Panama. The question is how much? Luckily for the U.S. there have been plenty of chances for many players on the roster to play important minutes at intense moments over the past 12 months. No matter who is called on to see out the job on Wednesday, there shouldn’t be any issues with unpreparedness or an inability to cope with the pressure.
Leading the Line
As with any USMNT match these days, it’s always a talking point to see who gets the nod in the striker role. Ricardo Pepi got the call against Mexico and again looked off the pace and ineffective. Jesus Ferreira got a more favorable start at home against a team you can put goals in against and continued his good run of form displayed at FC Dallas. Will either of them get a second chance in Panama or will Berhalter turn to to someone else with fresher legs? No matter who earns the start, this will inevitably be an ongoing debate for the rest of 2022.
With such a big cushion, it makes sense to start with Pulisic and Reyna on the bench in an effort to keep them healthy. If things somehow get dicey they will be fresh and ready to come on to preserve a lead or nick a goal. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
Ferreira gets the nod over Pefok and Pepi due to form and his ability to add energy and pressing. Let him run his socks off for 45-60 minutes then replace him.
The midfield trio is a bit of guesswork. Musah has played very well and deserves to keep his starting place, but considering the conditions and the style of match this likely to be, he seems the logical candidate to come out for the more defensive-minded Acosta.
Going along the fresh legs line, Long comes in for Miles Robinson and Yedlin regains his starting spot after a strong showing against Mexico. Steffen keeps his spot as he’s really got nothing else to do but chill on Man City’s bench after this is over.
Nothing is ever easy with this team, but they’ll get the job done in the end. 2-1 Costa Rica as Berhalter packs it in for the last 30 minutes and sees out the automatic qualifying spot. The U.S. get a goal on the counter as the hosts pour numbers forward.