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For the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s a rough road to the World Cup

With games against Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, a spot in the tournament is far from certain.

Christian Pulisic of United States takes a corner kick against Canada during a World Cup qualifying match in September in Nashville, Tennessee. The U.S. Men's National Team has three tough games coming up that will affect their chance of earning a spot in this year's World Cup. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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The next week will be a nervous time for American soccer fans. The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) will playthree matches to determine whether it will qualify for the World Cup, which will be played in Qatar in November and December.

The United States is tied for second place in its qualifying group. Teams earn 3 points for wins and 1 point for draws (ties). The group standings are:

Team
Wins
Losses
Draws
Points
Canada
7
0
4
25
United States
6
2
3
21
Mexico
6
2
3
21
Panama
5
4
2
17
Costa Rica
4
3
4
16
El Salvador
2
6
3
9
Jamaica
1
6
4
7
Honduras
0
8
3
3

The top three teams qualify for the World Cup while the fourth team will have to play a win-or-go-home game, probably against New Zealand.

Things look good for the USMNT, but a closer examination reveals why fans may be nervous.

The United States has three games left. Two are away — against Mexico (March 24) and Costa Rica (March 30) — while one is at home — against Panama (March 27).

Away games in the World Cup qualifying rounds are hard to win. Large, loud crowds can make things difficult for the visiting team as well as the referees. The home team makes everything as unfriendly as possible.

For example, the United States hosted Honduras (a warm-weather country) outdoors at night in Minnesota on February 2. The temperature was around zero, and the wind chill made it feel even colder. Two players from Honduras left the game because of the extreme cold. The United States won easily, 3-0.

The USMNT record in away games is 1-2-2 (win, loss, draw). The team is 5-0-1 when they play at home. Big difference.

Mexico will be hard to beat at the fabled Estadio Azteca, an 87,000-seat stadium in Mexico City. On the same day, Panama plays at home against Honduras, the weakest team in the group. If Mexico beats the United States and Panama beats Honduras, the USMNT will have only a 1-point lead over Panama when the teams play in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday night.

The USMNT has exciting young talent such as high-scoring Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna and Ricardo Pepi, but they are not as successful as the United States Women’s National Team. In 2017, the USNMST needed to tie or win against Trinidad and Tobago to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The U.S. men lost, 2-1.

The USMNT doesn’t want its chance to qualify for the World Cup to come down to a final match against Costa Rica in Costa Rica or an anything-can-happen game against New Zealand.

They need to win now. And that’s why American soccer fans are nervous.