Tonight is the final World Cup qualifier for the United States Men's National Team (USMNT). A primer is below (including little comments you can make tonight if you want to go to a bar and try to forget about our travails). The game is against Trinidad and Tobago at 8 p.m. (EST).
Believe me, next summer during OT season you'll be grateful if the US qualifies tonight. It's not guaranteed, however, although we are favored heavily to qualify.
Also, the games are in Russia so you'll have tons of day drinking next summer (as Moscow is 7 hours ahead of the East Coast). Otherwise, you'll be streaming videos at work (and some of you will be doing both). Drinker or not, you will be happy for that month of soccer.
Here is a primer for tonight's game for those who know nothing. FIFA is the world's football governing body, wtih 211 teams that are members in one of six continental confederation plus 12 additional teams (very small counties with no association). The massive tourament played over the years involves every team. If you want to be snooty, all of these teams play in qualifiers that are part of the World Cup. What we will all watch next summer is the World Cup Final Tournament (32 teams, which will expand to 48 in 2026).
The United States is in CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean). There are a total of 41 teams in CONCACAF. The United States, Mexico and Costa Rica are considered historically the top teams in CONCACAF.
After a series of qualifying rounds, six final teams play each other in a Hexagonal (known as The Hex). This is actually technically the "CONCACAF fifth round," which gives you a sense of how many soccer games were played before. This fifth round started in November 2016. What happens is all the soccer clubs in the world take "international breaks" so the players go play in these games (2 at a time), so the games are spread out.
The six-teams play a round robin format. One home and one away game against each of the other five teams. So, in addition to the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica, this Hex had Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad & Tobago.
You get three points for a win and one point for a tie. The top three teams go to the World Cup Final Tournament. The fourth team plays in home-and-home series against the third place team of Asian Football Confederation (which will be either Australia or Syria). If there is a tie in points, it is decided by goals scored minus goals given up (or, in soccer parlance, "conceded").
Last Friday, the US played an incredibly important game against Panama in Orlando and, thankfully, won 4-0. This means that if we win tonight, we go to the World Cup in Russia.
We have a history with Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). In 1950 we qualified for the World Cup but didn't qualify again for four decades.
To clinch the U.S.’s first World Cup berth since 1950, the Americans had to win on the road against T&T -- a team that had not lost at home during the qualifying campaign. If the U.S. tied or lost, T&T be in their the first World Cup spot in the nation’s history. Also important was that the US was going to host the World Cup in 1994, but we might lose the hosting rights for World Cup 1994 for a number of reasons if we didn't qualify for the 1990 tournament. (As a side note, the host country is always in World Cup so losing the hosting rights meant we lost the automatic bid too.)
Few Americans saw the only goal scored in the Port of Spain on Nov. 19, 1989. Here it is: LINK
The US won 1-0. Here is a video by FIFA on how that goal changed US Soccer: LINK For the US it is called "The Shot Heard Around the World."
Today, we are much better. All of our players play professionally. But every team in the world is better and getting through the Hex has been a slog. We fired our coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, a former player who won the 1990 World Cup with Germany, and rehired Bruce Arena (the coach from 1998 to 2006).
I'm hoping some people can add some one-liners for neophytes to say at the bar if they watch the game. Here are a few: "They've just played with a bit more spark since Arena came back." or "I hope Christian Pulisic meets all of his potential. He could be really good if he keeps developing."
As a final note: Christian Pulisic moved to Detroit when he was eight years old so that his father, Mark, could coach the Detroit Ignition of the Major Indoor Soccer League Although born in Hersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan can take some credit for him.
Please: what are the comments I can make to hide the fact that I don't know anything about soccer?