Breaking down the Hex: 10 games that stand between USMNT and 2018 World Cup

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A difficult start comes with trade-offs. Paul Tenorio dissects the U.S.' path to Russia.

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With its win on Tuesday night over Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. locked up the top spot in its group in the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

Finishing in first gives the U.S. a tough start to the final round, the Hexagonal, but also a favorable schedule otherwise – a home/away alternation throughout the Hex that allows for proper planning and easier travel burden, as well as a chance to start off strong if it can get positive results against its two toughest opponents.

Here is a quick game-by-game primer on the Hexagonal round, which starts in two months.

Nov. 11 – U.S. vs Mexico

A cold November date in Columbus awaits, as the U.S. will invite its rivals to MAPFRE Stadium, aka the home of Dos A Cero. This is one heck of a way to start the final round of qualifying. A win sets everything off in the right direction. A loss puts the U.S. in a very tough spot going into a second game that won’t be any easier.

Nov. 15 – U.S. at Costa Rica

Outside of playing in Azteca, there aren’t much tougher match-ups than playing on the road in Costa Rica. This game likely won’t be on the old turf at Estadio Saprissa, but the Ticos have proven to be one of the best in the region, and this will be a game in which a point would be considered a success. Losing at home to Mexico would make this game a doozy.

March 24 – U.S. vs. Honduras

Considering the first two games of the Hex, the U.S. will welcome a home game against Los Catrachos. The U.S. has lost just three times in 23 games against Honduras all time, and only once at home in World Cup qualifying: in September 2001. Honduras has improved over the past two cycles, but the U.S. will look at this game as a must-win. (Ideal location: Denver or Chicago)

March 28 – U.S. at Panama

This is another area the U.S. will look to add some ground. The U.S. has a stellar record against Panama, it’s latest outing (a loss in the Gold Cup) notwithstanding. The U.S. is unbeaten against Panama in World Cup qualifiers, and it will look to jump on this game as a chance to pick up some precious points on the road.

June 9 – U.S. vs. Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad has played some good soccer over the last few years, and they usually aren’t as vulnerable and poor as the U.S. made them look in a 4-0 win to close out the fourth round of qualifying. That being said, if the U.S. is playing its best soccer … the team is four goals better than T&T. A summer game at home against the Soca Warriors should be considered a must-win for the USMNT. (Ideal location: Salt Lake City)

June 13 – U.S. at Mexico

The downside of finishing first in the group? Besides the tough start to qualifying, a mid-June visit to Azteca isn’t ideal. It’s going to be hot in Mexico City, adding to the altitude and the smog, and it makes a very difficult game even more challenging. The U.S. will have to manage this one, but this game does line up nicely when looking at the games immediately preceding it.

Sept. 1 – U.S. vs. Costa Rica

Coming back from a two-month break, the U.S. will get a chance to host Costa Rica. After the snow game in Denver, expect the U.S. to try to get the Ticos out of their comfort zone with a game in a colder-weather area, or a location that has a chance at being chillier – Portland or Seattle, maybe? The Ticos are always a tough match-up and the U.S. will surely hope for a positive result ahead of a tough road trip. (Ideal location: Portland or Seattle)

Sept. 5 – U.S. at Honduras

There are plenty of tough places to play in CONCACAF for many different reasons. Poor fields, difficult travel, adverse conditions. Playing in San Pedro Sula has to rank among the top, only behind the difficult of road games in Mexico and Costa Rica. Depending on how the games go earlier in qualification, this is yet another game the U.S. will circle and hope to eke out some road points in CONCACAF, but it won’t be easy. If the team doesn’t get a result, there could be significant pressure in the final two games. 

Oct. 6 – U.S. vs. Panama

As tough as the opening of the Hex will be for the U.S., the final two games have to be considered as a best-case scenario if the U.S. is in need of points to ensure passage into the World Cup. Panama has put up some good fights against the U.S. in recent years, most notably last summer, but this is a game the U.S. should win. (Ideal location: Kansas City)

Oct. 10 – U.S. at Trinidad and Tobago

Closing out the Hex with the most favorable road game is a blessing for the U.S., but the team will be hoping to avoid a scenario similar to the one that sent the Americans to the World Cup in 1990. If the U.S. is going into this game in need of a result to advance, things have gone badly in the rest of the Hex. The U.S. has lost just once to Trinidad since 1994, however, and will feel like getting three points in T&T isn’t an unreasonable ask.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio