The United States Men’s National Team is two weeks removed from its latest World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica and two weeks away from its next set of games against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
At the mid-point of the break between international games, let’s check in on Team USA’s World Cup qualifying status.
Right now, the United States sits atop Group A, tied with Guatemala and Jamaica with seven points. The top two teams will advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, commonly known as “The Hexagonal."
As it stands, the U.S. and Guatemala would advance based on goal differential with both teams at plus-two. Jamaica would finish third in the group and out of qualifying with a plus-one goal differential.
The United States will face Antigua and Barbuda on October 12 in Antigua and then return home to face Guatemala in Kansas City four days later. The first game will be televised on beIN Sport available on DirecTV. The second game will be televised on ESPN2, ESPN3 and Univision.
Jamaica will host the same teams on the opposite nights, Guatemala on October 12 and Antigua and Barbuda on October 16.
Assuming that both Jamaica and the United States pick up three points each in their respective matches against group bottom-feeder Antigua and Barbuda, both Jamaica and the U.S. would be assured of ten points in group play.
In that scenario, if Jamaica were to beat Guatemala, they would finish the group with 13 points. The U.S. would enter its final match against Guatemala with ten points and Guatemala would remain at seven points.
Guatemala would then have to beat the United States by at least three goals to finish with a better goal differential than the U.S. to guarantee advancement. In this scenario, a tie by the U.S. would also guarantee its advancement. There is another messy scenario where Guatemala beats the U.S. by two goals and advancement comes down to tie-breakers.
In the same scenario of both Jamaica and the United States winning their respective games against Antigua and Barbuda, but Guatemala beating Jamaica, Jamaica would finish the group with ten points and the U.S. and Guatemala would both enter their October 16 game with ten points.
In this scenario, a tie would send both the U.S. and Guatemala through to the next round. A loss by either team in that game would send advancement between the loser and Jamaica down due to goal differential.
The bottom line is the U.S. can advance with two wins or a win and a tie. If the U.S. loses either game, it is very likely advancement will come down to goal differential.
Don’t expect USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to fiddle with the roster too much - these games are far too important and he has already made it obvious who he is counting on to get the job done for the U.S.
The most likely candidates to be dropped would be Jonathan Spector, Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman.
Spector could be dropped in favor of Eric Lichaj, but after a less than stellar performance by Lichaj against Southampton last weekend in the EPL, he may lose his starting spot at Aston Villa and his chance for a national team call-up.
Maurice Edu has yet to see the field for new club Stoke City and Kyle Beckerman’s poor outing against Jamaica in the last set of qualifiers could cost him his place. With Michael Bradley likely returning from injury, Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Danny Williams should be enough to cover the U.S. at the holding midfielder position. Klinsmann may call up Edu or Beckerman to fill out the roster, but he is unlikely to call up both.
The other additions that will likely be made to the roster, besides Michael Bradley, are Landon Donovan and Josh Gatt, both of whom should be fit again after missing the last set of games due to injury.
Fans will be keen to see what formation Klinsmann adopts for these crucial games, having tried just about every look in modern football.
Most U.S. fans will hope for more of an attacking approach, especially after the U.S.’s poor offensive showing in its first qualifier against Jamaica.
One holding midfielder should be more than enough to get the job done against Antigua and Barbuda, allowing Klinsmann to go back to his preferred 4-3-3 or even the 4-1-3-2 that worked so well in the second qualifier against Jamaica.
Against Guatemala, even though the game is at home, Klinsmann may adopt to go with two holding midfielders knowing that a tie would advance the U.S. to the next round. In that scenario, expect Klinsmann to use a variation of a 4-5-1 or the old 4-2-2-2 “empty bucket.”
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