Starting their 2014 World Cup qualification campaign with a 2-1 away loss to Honduras was certainly not the way that USMNT players, coaches or fans wanted to kick off the hexagonal.
And despite the fact that the loss to Honduras revealed some serious areas of concern for the team, the USMNT is still in about the best position a team could hope for after starting off the final round of qualification with a loss.
Here are three reasons the USMNT is still in a prime position to be taking its place among the world’s 32 best teams in Brazil next summer.
Jurgen Klinsmann has shown the ability to be pragmatic
Despite Jurgen Klinsmann’s disastrous game plan for the Honduras game, he has shown the ability to get results by conventional means when he’s needed to.
In the U.S.’ away wins against Italy and Mexico in 2012, Klinsmann realized the U.S. was going to be outmatched and chose to have the team sit back for much of the match.
Late in 2012, as the U.S. continued to struggle in Klinsmann’s preferred 4-3-3 formation—especially when the team deployed three defensive midfielders, as they did in the away loss to Jamaica in September—Klinsmann put the U.S. into a 4-1-3-2 for the next three World Cup qualifiers, and the team won all three games.
The away loss to Honduras last month was certainly a step back for Klinsmann, as he once again tried to force the U.S. into a formation it was not ready or able to execute, but Klinsmann has shown in the past that he can put the U.S. in a position to win.
Expect the U.S. to come out in the Costa Rica game later this month with a more traditional, and more attacking, lineup.
The U.S. is only one point behind in qualifying
Despite the rough start to World Cup qualifying for the USMNT with the away loss to Honduras, every other result from the first matchday of qualifying went the U.S.’ way.
Jamaica managed a 0-0 draw away to Mexico, and Costa Rica managed a 2-2 away draw to Panama.
Although the U.S. currently sits at the bottom of the table among the six teams in the hexagonal, it is only one point away from a World Cup qualification spot with the top three teams gaining automatic berths. The fourth-place team in CONCACAF will face the winner of the Oceania group for the final qualification spot. The current leader of the Oceania group is New Zealand.
Assuming the U.S. gets all three points against Costa Rica on March 22, considering the following scenarios, the U.S. will find itself, at the worst, tied on points for third place in the hexagonal.
If Honduras beats Mexico, Honduras will have six points and Mexico will have one point. If Mexico beats Honduras, Mexico will have four points and Honduras will have three points. If Mexico and Honduras tie, Honduras will have four points and Mexico will have two points.
If Jamaica beats Costa Rica, Jamaica will have four points and Costa Rica will have one point. If Costa Rica beats Jamaica, Costa Rica will have four points and Jamaica will have one point. If Costa Rica and Jamaica tie, each team will have two points.
There are still nine games to go
There’s no doubt that the U.S. has a difficult mountain still to climb to qualify for Brazil. After the Costa Rica match at home, the USMNT will have to travel to Mexico and Jamaica for its next two matches.
And even if the U.S. ends up securing draws in those two matches (no guarantee considering the U.S.’ lack of success at Azteca and the U.S.’ away loss to Jamaica in September) and wins against Costa Rica later this month, that would still only end up giving the U.S. five points after four games.
That being said, the good news for the U.S. is that the tough schedule in the first half of the hexagonal does make things easier down the critical home stretch. The U.S. plays four of its final six hexagonal matches at home and has its “easier” away matches during that stretch as well.
Assuming the U.S. and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann don’t panic, the U.S. still has plenty of time to turn the ship around.
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