The World Cup qualifier against Guatemala on Tuesday isn't exactly a must-win for the United States, but it's just about a must-not-lose. If you've been checked out on the USMNT for a few months (or years), this should catch you up on everything you need to know. If you've caught up or you're already well aware of the basics, here's a bit of a deeper dive into how screwed the Americans are and their scenarios for advancing to the next round of World Cup qualifying.
Scenarios based on Tuesday's result
What happens if they win
Assuming Trinidad and Tobago take care of St. Vincent, the USMNT will be in good shape, but still have work to do. They'll be three points behind T&T, though they'll probably have an advantage in terms of goal differential. Even though T&T are expected to record a multi-goal win at home against SVG, they only won by one goal away and drew the Americans at home. If the USMNT beats SVG away and T&T at home, they'll not only go through, but likely top the group. A win over Guatemala opens up scenarios where the USMNT can draw one of their remaining two games and still sneak into the Hex.
What happens if they lose
A loss on Tuesday, followed by wins over SVG and T&T, puts the USMNT on 10 points. That total got Jamaica out of their group in this round of qualifying back in 2012, but it would require the Americans to get some help.
If T&T defeats SVG on Tuesday, the U.S. would need...
- Guatemala to beat T&T
- To beat T&T themselves
- To beat T&T on goal differential.
That's a lot that needs to go right.
If the Vincy Heat manage to hold T&T to a draw on Tuesday night and the USMNT wins their final two games, they'd still need the Guatemala vs. T&T match to end in either a draw or a win for Guatemala.
Neither of these scenarios is impossible, but they are a toss-up at best, and unlikely at worst if you're an American supporter. Any scenarios that include SVG getting points away to Guatemala are so unlikely that they're probably not worth considering.
What happens if they draw
The scenarios get pretty wild.
Assuming Tuesday night concludes with T&T on 10 points, Guatemala on 7 and the USMNT on 5, the Americans will be rooting for T&T to draw or lose to Guatemala on Sept. 2. If the USMNT beats the Vincy Heat on the same day, they'll go into the final day on 8 points.
In the event of a draw in the other game, Guatemala will also be on 8 and T&T on 11. In that scenario, the U.S. could beat T&T and finish any of first, second or third due to goal differential, assuming Guatemala beats SVG at home. If Guatemala beats T&T in their matchup, then in this scenario, the U.S. would have a win-and-you're-in game against the Soca Warriors.
* * *
OK, now that you understand the scenarios, here's what you need to know about Tuesday night's game and the likelihood of each outcome.
The good news
1. According to the numbers, it's still going just fine. Jurgen Klinsmann's boys are favorites to get out of their group.
Updated Soccer Power Index projections to reach the Hex:— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) March 26, 2016
84% T&T (7 pts)
79% #USMNT (4 pts)
37% Guatemala (6 pts)
2. Even though Guatemala pulled off a huge result against the Americans to go two points ahead of them, they're still not a great team historically and lost to T&T at home. They've never qualified for the World Cup, failed to advance to the Hexagonal round of qualifying in the last two cycles and haven't made a Gold Cup knockout stage since 2007. The USMNT should beat them at home even if they have an off day, and they've done so repeatedly. They're 12-0-1 all-time at home against Guatemala, and 6-0-0 in qualifying.
3. The USMNT has been here before. In 2012, they drew in Guatemala, then lost to Jamaica. They needed to beat the Reggae Boyz at home to keep their qualifying hopes realistically alive and they did it, squeaking out a 1-0 victory thanks to Herculez Gomez. They went on to beat Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala in their next two matches, qualifying for the Hex. That was arguably an even more dire situation than this one -- Jamaica was a better team than Guatemala. It was a much tougher must-win game.
The bad news
1. If the USMNT draws, they're in trouble. If they lose, qualification becomes extremely difficult.
#USMNT isn't in a dire spot yet, as far as advancing goes (79% per SPI).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) March 26, 2016
That drops to 59% with a draw Tuesday. Down to 10% with a loss.
2. The USMNT is playing very poorly right now, setting some new historical benchmarks for awfulness. Guatemala's win on Friday was their first over the Americans since 1988, when the U.S. players were largely amateurs. There wouldn't be a professional league in the United States for another eight years. It was also Guatemala's first-ever win over the U.S. in World Cup qualifying. The Americans' loss to Jamaica in the Gold Cup was their first home loss to any Caribbean nation since 1969 and their first Gold Cup loss in a round earlier than the final since 2003.
3. Landon Donovan appeared on Soccer Morning on Tuesday, and his words were not encouraging.
"The sense I get, and I talk to a lot of the players, is that there's no confidence because there's no stability." - @landondonovan— SiriusXM FC (@SiriusXMFC) March 29, 2016
Donovan is, of course, eternally salty about how he was treated by Klinsmann, so his comments always need to be taken with an entire salt mine. But there's no reason to believe that he doesn't have multiple friends on the team, and also no reason to believe that those friends don't tell him the truth. Between the infamous Brian Straus article from 2013 and the lack of public support for Klinsmann from players on the team, it's likely that the environment within the USMNT is not overwhelmingly positive. And if some of the team's most senior players have disagreed with Klinsmann's management style for years, they're probably getting worn down.