OT: World Cup Qualifier Tonight (dedicated to MaizeAndBlueWahoo)

Submitted by LLG on October 10th, 2017 at 2:05 PM

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?



October 10th, 2017 at 4:44 PM ^

yossarians tree

October 10th, 2017 at 2:46 PM ^

Be forewarned the game is not televised on one of the major networks. My comcast plan is showing it on something called NBC Universo which fingers crossed is in HD. For those who have lesser interest it might be worth watching because it appears that The Chosen One has arrived in the form of 19 year old Christian Pulisic. The kid was electric in last week's game against Panama, such that the other team took to hacking the shit out of him every chance they could get to try to get him off his game. The U.S. finally subbed him out to get him off the field once the game was in hand.


October 10th, 2017 at 7:54 PM ^

a Spanish only channel?  I'm guessing by the name it is.  Mine is Spanish and I can't find an English-speaking version.  I don't get beIN so I'll be working on my Spanish tonight.



October 10th, 2017 at 2:57 PM ^

I'm still not convinced that Arena is the answer for the USMNT. I was dubious of his hire and his player selection.


Good write up on a possible reason why the US is struggling right now. Will Arena make the tough decisions and call up these younger players who are showing much better potential and ability than the current call ups? Will his assistants get in the way of calling up Weston McKennie? 


October 10th, 2017 at 3:41 PM ^

I don't think Arena is intended to be the answer, unless the question is "oh crap Klinsmann is going to cost us our WC spot what the hell do we do now?"  Which, not coincidentally, was exactly the question everyone was asking after we got our asses beat in Costa Rica.

I think he's a great answer to that question, because since then the only questionable result is another loss to Costa Rica, at home.  I don't think anyone sees him as a long-term solution.  The next Gold Cup is 2019 - I think I'd be surprised if Arena was still coach by then.


October 10th, 2017 at 4:19 PM ^

Arena isn't "the answer" but he's more compitent than Klinsmann.  All we need is to get to Russia, and then if you get lucky anything can happen.

Frankly, the idea that any coach is going to be "the answer" for the US is flawed.  

Coaches in international soccer don't get to spend enough time with the team to truly be able to play a significant role in developing talent.  Even good and established players see their form go up and down depending on their club situation and health.  You might have a guy in great form for one game, and then in poor form by the time you get to call him in for your next game a month or two later (look at Fabian Johnson for example - a guy who's been really solid in the Bundesliga and for the US for the last few years, but who was left out of the team completely this time because he'd struggled for the US lately).

On top of all that, international coaches don't have the luxery of going out and buying players that fit a certain system or that fill a hole in the roster.

The point is that in international soccer, no coach is going to take the US' roster and perform a miracle (you could say the same thing for Mexico, England, and a bunch of other teams and countries).  That's not to say that the US or Mexico could never win the World Cup - they could - but it would be the result of solid play and good luck, not because the team suddenly became the best or one of the few best in the world.

All that the coaches can do in international soccer is be extremely competent, take the roster they have, and put the guys in a position to play to their strengths (basically the opposite of what Klinsmann did in a lot of cases).  Overhauling a federation, implimenting a totally different system, or developing a ton of talent way above what your country usually produces isn't possible in most cases.  

The idea that there's a coach out there that could transform US soccer into a world power is silly.  It might happen down the line anyway as our talent continues to improve (because soccer is still growing in the US while it's more or less stagnant everywhere else), but if we become a world power some day, it won't be because we implimented a way different system or overhauled our Fedration.  It will because our talent improved a ton (something that's already happening, whether or not our current team has better players than what we had 8 years ago).

Obviously the US should get a new coach after the World Cup, but nobody is going to be "the answer" the way that some (naive) people thought Klinsmann was going to be.


October 10th, 2017 at 5:24 PM ^

I think you are missing out on much of what a Klinsmann type of HC can do for a developing soccer nation like the US. While his tactics and style were not suited to where the US is today as a footballing nation. He has been touted and given credit iin changing/adjusting the youth/development culture in the US to more of a european style. The US has never been short in supply of footballers with the physical traits to be international level. What they have lacked is the skill and tactical level to be a top international level country. I do beleive that by liniking your develpment to professional clubs like europe it does give the US a chance to develop better footballers at a younger age.

Depth in quality is key at the international level. As you state you can't buy/sell/sign your way to the top. You need multiple choices of quality at each position to deliver at the top international levels.


October 10th, 2017 at 4:00 PM ^

"Please:  what are the comments I can make to hide the fact that I don't know anything about soccer?"

Hmm... maybe something like, "Considering that we only need a tie, I thought we should play another more defensive midfielder along with Bradley.  But for me a it's a really tough call between Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty."


October 10th, 2017 at 5:43 PM ^

That's true. In order for the US not to go through with a draw, you'd have to see Panama beat Costa Rica by eight goals.

That wouldn't happen under normal circumstances, especially since Costa Rica will likely be playing mostly a modified B squad with solid players who are hoping for a trip to Russia next year.

If the US loses, it drops to fourth (and the playoff with Australia) if either Panama or Honduras wins, and fifth (and out of qualification) if both win (and remains third if both lose).

Panama/Costa Rica and Honduras/Mexico draws help the US, since Mexico and Costa Rica have already qualified.

More interesting action in South America, where five qualify and the standings are very close (the fifth team has to play a home-and-home with New Zealand, but will be very heavily favored). There are a couple of top ten teams in the entire world (Argentina, Colombia) that are in serious danger of elimination. So far, the only team in the world's top 25 in the ELO rankings that has been eliminated is Netherlands (16th).

It's too bad none of this is on the major sports channels. The US/Trinidad match is on something called BEIN, but it's on "Gold" tier on Spectrum. A couple of the Spanish-language sports channels are on "Silver" tier. They sometimes pick games up last-minute, so I'll check them.


October 10th, 2017 at 7:55 PM ^

It looks like it might be on Universo (UNVSD) on Spectrum channel 855. They're showing live shots (I don't speak any Spanish). The stadium looks like it might hold 8,000 people, packed. From the side of the stands they're showing, crowding won't be a problem. Maybe 600 to 800 on the sideline away from the tunnel.


October 10th, 2017 at 10:00 PM ^

Talk about a week of gut punches.

Everyone was all excited about Arena when he won a couple easy games.

In the end, his two losses were much worse than the two losses we started the hex with under Klinsman.