Jamaica defender Damion Lowe (17) stops a drive by U.S. forward Cristian Roldan (10) last Thursday. (Chuck Burton/USA TODAY Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Good morning, soccer universe.
It’s time for another lesson in World Cup qualifying mathematics as we jump into why the U.S. men’s national team’s game against Costa Rica Wednesday night matters so much.
First of all, it is a home game.
Secondly, it is against Costa Rica, one of Concacaf’s powers.
And third, anything but a win will leave the USA in a horrible position after six games, with another must-win home game against Mexico looming Nov. 12.
Here’s what the standings look like entering Game Day Three in the October window:
1. Mexico (3-0-2, 11 points) 8 goals for, 3 against
2. USA (2-1-2, 8), 7-3
3. Panama (2-1-2, 8), 5-2
4. Canada (1-0-4, 7), 6-3
5. Costa Rica (1-1-3, 6), 3-3
6. El Salvador (1-2-2, 5), 2-5
7. Honduras (0-2-3, 3) 2-8
8. Jamaica (0-3-2, 2), 2-8
The USMNT already lost two valuable home points with its 1-1 draw with Canada in Nashville last month.
Each lost opportunity and points, particularly at home, makes it that more difficult for the Americans to reach Qatar.
We all know how difficult it is to win on the road in Concacaf. Even in Jamaica, which is in last place in the final round. Through the years, the USMNT has compiled a 1-1-4 qualifying mark in games played at The Office in Kingston, Jamaica. That includes three scoreless draws to open the series as both sides have tallied four goals.
The good news is that the USMNT won’t have to travel to El Salvador, Honduras and Panama, although a journey to Costa Rica is looming down the road.
It must be noted that the USA already has played against the three lowest teams in the standings.
Last week, I said six points from the three matches would be acceptable, seven would be nice and nine would be a miracle.
Now, besides a win and six points we’re talking about the possibility of three or four points.
That would be UNACCEPTABLE, especially playing twice at home.
By the time the dust settles at Lower.com Field in Columbus Wednesday night, the USA will have played six of its 14 qualifiers, almost a half of the Octagonal (actually 42.9 percent, but that’s close enough).
After the November window, which includes a big, big, big match against Mexico in Cincinnati, Ohio on Nov. 12 and a game in The Office in Kingston, Jamaica four days later, more than half the schedule will have been played.
In case you’re wondering, there are two qualifying windows in 2022:
* Jan. 27 USA vs. El Salvador
* Jan. 30 – Canada vs. USA
* Feb. 2 – USA vs. Honduras
* March 24 – Mexico vs. USA
* March 27 – USA vs. Panama
* March 30 – Costa Rica vs. USA
Yes, the killer part of the schedule is at the end at Estadio Azteca (where the USA has never won a qualifier) and in San Jose, Costa Rica, where the Americans have never won in 10 qualifiers, whether the stadium was Saprissa or Nacional (0-9-1).
For every team, less games remaining mean less room for error.
And like the proverbial squirrel storing nuts for the winter, the USMNT must accrue points now or prepare to pay later with games that have a much more severe of difficulty.
That is why the USMNT faces a must-win situation with Costa Rica.
Win now and the Americans can save themselves from much adversity and pain later on.