USMNT: Getting to Know Your CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal Opponents
Welcome to the Hex.
With its 3-1 home victory over Guatemala on Tuesday night, the United States men's national team qualified for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying—or the Hex as it's popularly known.
In the Hex, six teams will compete in home-and-home matches next year for three automatic berths to the 2014 World Cup (the schedule has not yet been released). The fourth-place finisher will enter a playoff with a team from Oceania for the region's final potential berth.
That means the U.S. has almost booked its place in Brazil. First, though, come the toughest tests yet. Here is a primer on the five opponents Jurgen Klinsmann's team must face in the Hex.
How they got here: Runner-up, Group B
Last World Cup: 2006 (eliminated in group stage)
Costa Rica closed the semifinal round with a 7-0 thumping of Group B punching bag Guyana on home soil. The Ticos entered the final matchday with remote doubts of qualification, but to miss out on the final round, El Salvador would have had to beat Mexico in Mexico.
That clearly didn't happen, and in the end, qualification was somewhat easy for Costa Rica. With that said, the Ticos scored only seven goals before Tuesday's outburst and opened the round with a disappointing home draw against El Salvador.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio led Costa Rica with six goals in the semifinal round, including a hat trick at Guyana. He added two more goals in the return match.
The roster is surprisingly cosmopolitan. Including Saborio, 13 players from the most recent Costa Rican roster play their club ball in Europe or the U.S.
How they got here: Runner-up, Group C
Last World Cup: 2010 (eliminated at group stage)
Honduras advanced to the Hexagonal on the strength of a shocking 8-1 home win over Canada on the final matchday of the semifinal round. Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly both recorded hat tricks, while Mario Martinez added two more goals as Los Catrachos ran riot.
The big win completed a creditable turnaround for Honduras, which failed to score in its first two matches of the semifinal round (a home loss to Panama and a draw at Canada).
Bengtson, who plays at the club level with the New England Revolution, is the danger man with a team-high five goals in the semifinal round.
Including Bengtson, five Honduran players feature for MLS teams.
How they got here: Runner-up, Group A
Last World Cup: 1998 (eliminated at group stage)
Jamaica has qualified for only one World Cup, but after pulling off an unlikely escape on the final matchday of the semifinal round, the Reggae Boyz have a decent shot to qualify again.
Beating the U.S. at home was the most memorable and historic result of the round, but the 4-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday (coupled with the U.S.'s 3-1 win over Guatemala) was the one that sent Theodore Whitmore's team through.
Like other CONCACAF nations, this is a team with a distinct MLS flavor. Defenders Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo) and Lovel Palmer (Portland Timbers), midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson (Houston Dynamo) and forward Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids) were all part of the most recent roster.
All-time top goal scorer Luton Shelton (35 goals) is 26 and advancing his career in Europe. With plenty of speed and a decent amount of talent, this could be a dangerous team in the final round.
Problem is, it's never clear which team will turn up. Jamaica drew away to Antigua and Barbuda early in Group A play (admittedly, the U.S. almost did so as well), and no player scored more than two goals in the round.
How they got here: Winner, Group B
Last World Cup: 2010 (second in Group A, eliminated in Round of 16)
Mexico was the only team to win all six semifinal matches. El Tri dominated the opposition, scoring 15 goals against only two allowed, and will enter the Hexagonal as the clear favorite.
It's not hard to see why.
Mexico won the gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and Jose Manuel de la Torre's senior squad includes a potent mixture of youth and experience. Throw in Mexico's near-invincibility at the Azteca Stadium and you have a recipe for regional domination.
This team never trailed at any point during the semifinal round, during which eight players scored. Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta led the way with three goals each.
How they got here: Winner, Group C
Last World Cup: None
Panama has never qualified for the World Cup, but after winning a wild Group C, this might be the Central American nation's best chance.
If this team does qualify, it will probably have its defense to thank. The Panamanians allowed only two goals in the semifinal round, and that somewhat covered up an offense that produced just six goals of its own in six matches.
FC Dallas forward Blas Perez led the team with three goals in Group C, including both strikes in a 2-0 away win against Honduras.
With that being said, traveling outside Central America seems to be a problem. Panama needed a second-half equalizer to draw at Cuba and lost 1-0 at Canada.
Should we expect a cold-weather venue for Panama's trip to the U.S.?