For the United States men's national team, the final leg of the journey to Brazil begins in Honduras.
For coach Jurgen Klinsmann, it's a chance to put it all together.
The official draw for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying was held Wednesday night in Miami Beach, Fla. With the schedule now decided, the U.S. and Klinsmann turn their attention to qualifying for the nation's seventh straight World Cup.
The feeling coming out of the U.S. camp is simple: This team is good enough to qualify, but it won't be easy.
Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July of 2011, and in his 15-plus months on the job, he has produced mixed results. Historic wins at Italy and Mexico were tempered by a frustrating—and nearly catastrophic—loss to Jamaica and disappointing results against Brazil and Canada.
With the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers approaching, none of that really means anything. The reset button has been pushed, and results—not style or attractive soccer—are all that matters.
Klinsmann, of course, would tell you that all of the above are possible, all at once. But even he would agree that the hexagonal will serve as a stiff challenge.
“We are confident, but we know that it’s going to be a difficult road and a one-game-at-a-time path," Klinsmann said (via USSoccer.com). "We are prepared for that. We won’t underestimate anybody and we respect and admire every nation out there playing."
The U.S. starts with three road trips in their first four games in the final round.
The opener is Feb. 6 at Honduras, which won Group C in the semifinal round. Luis Fernando Suarez's team eliminated Canada with a shocking 8-1 result on the final day and beat out Panama to the top spot in the process.
Next is a home date with Costa Rica on March 22 before a quick trip to Mexico and the Azteca Stadium four days later.
The 10-game schedule concludes Oct. 15 with another road game, this time at Panama. For the full schedule (via USSoccer.com), click here.
Perhaps the most important date on the schedule for the U.S. is the home game against Mexico on Sept. 10. The U.S. is 4-4-2 at home against Mexico in World Cup qualifying but 0-13-1 on the road.
Only two matches remain after the U.S. hosts Mexico, and that means the game could have a strong bearing on whether the Americans qualify.
As of Thursday, the venue for the match had not been decided. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said several factors will affect the choice (via USSoccer.com).
Time zones, venues, television start times—all of those things—weather matters, travel distance from Europe, travel distance between games, artificial surface issues. There (are) a lot of variables but we’ve got a pretty good handle on what we want to do.
By this point of the process, so should Klinsmann and the players. Now we wait and see.
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