Could the Americans secure a World Cup berth Friday night in Costa Rica? Yes, they could, according to the U.S. Soccer Federation. The odds are against it, but after winning three consecutive qualifiers in June, they have put themselves in position to clinch in the seventh of 10 final-round matches.
Here is what needs to happen:
*The United States wins at Costa Rica.
Verdict: Wishful thinking, perhaps. The Americans have lost six straight in San Jose. They don’t have to play at Saprissa Stadium, but the opponent is the same and the Ticos are famished for revenge after the snow fiasco in March.
*Mexico draws at home against Honduras.
Verdict: Plausible. The Azteca factor is not what it used to be: El Tri has settled for three scoreless draws in three home qualifiers at its monstrous home this year. The Catrachos are not intimidated.
*Panama loses or draws at home against Jamaica.
Verdict: Not likely. The Reggae Boyz have fallen out of contention, while the hosts are coming off a second-place finish at the Gold Cup and see an opportunity to vault into the top half of the CONCACAF standings.
The table entering Friday’s matches:
United States 4-1-1, 13 points, +4 goal difference
Costa Rica 3-1-2, 11 points, +4
Mexico 1-0-5, 8 points, +1
Honduras 2-3-1, 7 points, -1
Panama 1-2-3, 6 points, -2
Jamaica 0-4-2, 2 points, -6
Honduras at Mexico, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPNews, UniMas, WatchESPN)
Jamaica at Panama, 10 p.m.
United States at Costa Rica, 10 p.m. (live on beIN Sport; tape at 1 a.m. on beIN Sport Spanish)
Of note: beIN Sport owns the rights to every U.S. away qualifier, except the Mexico match last March.
The U.S. clinching matches since the 1998 qualifying cycle:
1998: Ninth of 10 matches, at Canada (3-0 on two goals by Roy Wegerle, one by Claudio Reyna)
2002: Ninth of 10, Jamaica in Foxborough, Mass. (2-0 on two goals by Joe-Max Moore)
2006: Seventh of 10, Mexico in Columbus, Ohio (2-0 on goals by Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley)
2010: Ninth of 10, at Honduras (3-2 on two goals by Conor Casey, one by Landon Donovan)
If the Americans fail to clinch Friday, they will have another opportunity next Tuesday against Mexico in Columbus (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, UniMas).
In case of failure, the process would linger into mid-October: Jamaica at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., and Panama in Panama City.