After a bumpy start to World Cup qualifying, USMNT are seemingly back on track for Russia 2018. Two losses to start the final round of CONCACAF qualifying raised doubt regarding the Americans, but they’ve taken seven points from three matches heading into Sunday’s massive meeting with Mexico.
Even if USA fall short against El Tri (they have never won at Estadio Azteca), they are still in a solid position to qualify. In the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, the top three teams automatically advance to Russia after ten matches. After five matches, USA are one point ahead of Panama for the third automatic qualifying spot.
The good news is the the worst is mostly behind them. USA opened with losses against Costa Rica and Mexico, easily the two other strongest teams in CONCACAF. The failures cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job, but it means Bruce Arena will have a much easier time in those critical final matches. Qualifying runs through October, and USA will visit Trinidad & Tobago for their final fixture.
Right now, qualification looks good. According to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, the Americans still have an 83 percent chance of reaching the World Cup. A loss against Mexico on Sunday wouldn’t derail their chances, but it would create an opening for Panama to sneak back into the fold.
If USMNT slip and finish fourth, they would need an extra win to advance to Russia. That playoff would be against a qualifying team from Asia, which at this point in the tournament would either be Australia or Uzbekistan.
It’s nothing like the 2014 run, when USA breezed through qualifying. They finished The Hex 7-1-2, with Clint Dempsey leading the squad with nine goals. It’s still possible for this USMNT to replicate that record, but for now Bruce Arena will settle for a solid record and a plane ticket to Moscow.