State of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying After Four Games of The Hex

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USA's Graham Zusi (R) and USA's midfielder Jermaine Jones (L) vie for the ball with Panama's midfielder Armando Cooper during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier football match Panama vs United States in Panama City on March 28, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Bienvenido VELASCO (Photo credit should read BIENVENIDO VELASCO/AFP/Getty Images)

We are through four games in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying and the standings are beginning to look as we expected them to. The United States got off to a slow start, but has turned things around with a defiant four points during this break. Mexico and Costa Rica are still leading the way and Panama is looking strong as they are trying to make their first ever World Cup.

State of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying After Four Games of The Hex

Projections from before the Hex may have had the United States slightly higher in the standings. That’s a minor break from expectations at this point, however. Here’s a team by team look at how CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying stands. Remember, the top three teams head straight for Russia and the fourth place finisher will take on a team from Asia in a two legged playoff.

Sixth Place: Trinidad and Tobago- 3 pts, -4 GD

Trinidad got their first points of the competition on Friday with a 1-0 win at home against Panama. They followed that up with a one goal loss against Mexico at home. Holding out for as long as they did against the talented El Tri side is something to be applauded, regardless of where the game was played. They are still the longest of long shots to make it, but at least now they won’t have to worry about getting shut out entirely this round.

Remaining games:

June 7: @ USA
June 11: @ Costa Rica
Sept. 1: v. Honduras
Sept. 5: @ Panama
Oct. 6: @ Mexico
Oct 10: v. USA

Fifth Place: Honduras- 4 pts, -5 GD

Honduras had themselves a rough go this past week. Getting drilled 6-0 by a suddenly strong American team will certainly derail any of their qualification efforts. They did get a point from the break with a 1-1 draw at home against Costa Rica, but they really could have used the three points in a home game to keep their hopes alive. They have a difficult stretch of away tilts ahead of them and an extra win in their pockets would have really taken the pressure off in the immediate future. Even if they do emerge from the next three still alive, they will end the Hex with matches agaisnt the three best teams in CONCACAF. Safe to say it doesn’t look too great for Honduras.

Remaining games:

June 7: @ Mexico
June 11: @ Panama
Sept. 1: @ Trinidad and Tobago
Sept. 5: v. USA
Oct. 6: @ Costa Rica
Oct 10: v. Mexico

Fourth Place: USA- 4 pts. +1 GD

The United States got what they needed from this international break. They got a massive win at home against a relative minnow and a gritty draw in a notoriously difficult CONCACAF away match. The 6-0 drubbing of Honduras came after months and months of uncertainly left over from the Jurgen Klinsmann era. That was all swept away over the course of the first 45 minutes of the match.

The Panama result feels disappointing on the surface after such a clear ass whooping, but it really is a solid result. The USA was essentially without all four of their starters in the back four, which directly led to losing the clean sheet. With all due respect to Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez, there is no way a long throw results in a goal if John Brooks and/or Geoff Cameron are in the the game. They should look better on defense once they are playing with all their starters again.

The big number floating around in the post game was the USA’s 82% chance to make it to Russia. This feels legitimate after we saw them play so well in one of these last two games and seeing their easier remaining schedule. Winning their three remaining home games should be enough, but earning a couple road points in Honduras and Trinidad (where they really should win) will leave nothing to doubt.

Remaining games:

June 7: v. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: @ Mexico
Sept. 1: v. Costa Rica
Sept. 5: @ Honduras
Oct. 6: v. Panama
Oct 10: @ Trinidad and Tobago

Third Place: Panama- 5 pts, 0 GD

Panama’s chances took a hit this break. They failed to get a result against Trinidad and Tobago away from home, which they really needed to keep things on track. The home draw against the USA certainly helped, but they will have to hope that the failure to get at least a draw against lowly T&T comes back to haunt them. That said, they are still in good shape to finish fourth place thanks to the weaknesses of those below them. Holding onto third place will be too much to ask, but a fourth place finish and a shot at a qualifier against Asia is the expectation at this point.

Remaining games:

June 7: @ Costa Rica
June 11: v. Honduras
Sept. 1: @ Mexico
Sept. 5: v. Trinidad and Tobago
Oct. 6: @ USA
Oct 10: v. Costa Rica

Second Place: Costa Rica- 7 pts, +4 GD

Costa Rica has very little to worry about, even after their disappointing one point performance during this break. Los Ticos could hardly have been expected to walk into Estadio Azteca and escape with at least a draw. They will also settle for a point away to Honduras, which is one of the most CONCACAF places to play remaining in World Cup qualifying. Costa Rica are still sitting pretty in second place and three points clear of automatic qualification. Four of their remaining matches are on home turf and only one of their road trips is a supreme challenge. They should have nothing to worry about by the time the Hex wraps up in October.

Remaining games:

June 7: v. Panama
June 11: v. Trinidad and Tobago
Sept. 1: @ USA
Sept. 5: v. Mexico
Oct. 6: v. Honduras
Oct 10: @ Panama

First Place: Mexico- 10 pts, +4 GD

El Tri are having a much easier time qualifying than they did four years ago. They have cruised through the opening for games of their Hex with only one blemish. They came out of this round with six out of six points, which included a 2-0 win over fellow CONCACAF power Costa Rica and a gritty 1-0 win on the island of Trinidad. Mexico’s qualifying campaign should be wrapped up quite neatly with time to spare in this cycle (quite possibly after their next three games) and there will be no need for a stressful intercontinental playoff halfway across the world.

Remaining games:

June 7: v. Honduras
June 11: v. USA
Sept. 1: v. Panama
Sept. 5: @ Costa Rica
Oct. 6: v. Trinidad and Tobago
Oct 10: @ Honduras

Prediction

Given the foolish task of predicting how CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying will shake out, I take the four teams currently in qualifying spots. There is no way Mexico blows their six point stranglehold on the top three. Costa Rica should stay strong after their slow second break. The USA could very well jump them into second place if they keep playing with the renewed vigor of Bruce Arena. I like Panama to squeak into fourth place, but we will talk about their chances against an Asian opponent when we know who that team is.

I could see Honduras getting their act together and leaping over Panama. They do have the experience of having played in the 2014 World Cup to build upon. I just think Panama is the more talented side this time around. Trinidad and Tobago has been destined for last place since the beginning and I thank them for playing. We will see them next World Cup cycle.

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