USMNT Report: Saying Goodbye to the Hex

The United States prepares for its final match in the Hexagonal against Panama
by Herb Scribner   |   Tuesday, October 15, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

All roads have led us here – to the finale of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

The United States Men’s National Team, sitting comfortably at the top of the CONCACAF WCQ Hexagonal, will have it’s final qualifying match tonight against Panama at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.

In order to make a solid last impression and help their legitimacy, the Americans will need to perform better than they did last Friday.

THE ROAD TO NOW: In a truly uninspiring performance, the USMNT defeated Jamaica 2-0 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. Poor performances from Landon Donovan and the crew showed nothing positive about the US. That was until Graham Zusi swung into the 2nd half and ramped up the USA to get the victory.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: Big news came from the USMNT camp after the win over Jamaica – Landon Donovan, Matt Besler, Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones were all sent home in exchange for goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

“Landon is still struggling with the ankle injury from a couple weeks ago, so he will go back to Los Angeles and try to get back to 100 percent,” said USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann. “Jermaine’s case is more of a concern. His knee was bothering him all night but he battled through.”

In the case of Howard, it was more to make room for Brad Guzan.

“Brad Guzan has earned the opportunity to start against Panama,” Klinsmann said. “He has been outstanding for Aston Villa all year, and he has been huge in the games he has played for us in World Cup Qualifying.”

And even though he won’t be facing Panama, Donovan gave reasoning to why the USA would want to finish at the head of the Hex.

“It’s important to win the group and this time’s a little different than in the past,” he said. “It takes a lot more points generally to win the group but this time it has been more closely contested. So for us it’s important again as far as FIFA rankings go. It’s important and there is an outside chance we can get seeded and we want to take that in to Panama.”

ANALYSIS: It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of the Hexagonal.

It’s been a long road for the USA. From the highest altitudes of Azteca to the Colorado blizzard, the Americans have traveled from coast to coast, stadium to stadium, all to secure the top spot in the CONCACAF Hexagonal round.

With 1st place in hand and an assured World Cup berth, the United States has little official titles and honors to play for, save for a possible yet improbable seeding. But, in truth, the Americans next game against Panama is one of the largest to date. Like the recent affair with Jamaica – a dreadful game that ranks among the worst under Klinsmann – the US has a chance to test out its last players and get a good grasp on what full team will be brought to Brazil.

By November, when the United States plays Austria and Scotland in international friendlies, the full team should be ready to go, assuming no one suffers any more critical injuries. Tonight's squad is one of the last groups of secondary players — Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Edgar Castilo, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Sacha Kljestan — we’ll see during this World Cup qualifying cycle.

We’ve seen these players before throughout the last few months, but we won’t see many again following tonight’s match. Some will fade back into the US player pool, while others will be brought along for the ride into the next camp and beyond.

Which is why the United States should make this last game count. The players likely will push for a top performance to secure a roster spot, or at the very least another call-up in the fall.

Confidence is important, too. Friday night’s win against Jamaica was hardly attractive, and more than likely deflated the Americans. A solid win tonight, against a home Panama side that’s capable of putting the US in a precarious position, would reaffirm the USA that they’re the top CONCACAF – an extremely weak CONCACAF, that is.

Part of CONCACAF’s weakness is because of Mexico’s troubles this year, specifically under former manager Chepo. El Tri’s fate for a World Cup berth is actually contingent on how the US performs. Panama is just ahead of Mexico for fourth place, which leads to an intercontinental play-off against New Zealand. For Mexico to reach that point and have any hope of making the World Cup (a likely guaranteed berth since New Zealand is levels below an ailing Mexico), they’ll need the USA to defeat Panama.

The USA can’t afford to have another pitiful performance like it did against Jamaica on Friday. The region is already weak enough (Mexico, a side that’s usually in the running for the top spot, might not even qualify) and a loss or questionable performances would only raise more questions about how the USA will do in Brazil. They deserve to be there, surely, seeing as the Yanks are the best in the region. But sloppy wins against lowly minnows don’t exactly show they’re ready to contend with the best of the world.

To put last Friday night’s win in perspective, on the same night Argentina ripped past Peru 3-1, Germany tore apart Ireland 3-0, Holland hacked away at Hungary 8-1. Those are top-level teams, and ones the USA undoubtedly could find themselves paired with next summer. And they weren’t anywhere near those teams’ level.

Walking out of the Hexgonal on a bad note would only discredit all the work the USA has done throughout qualifiying. And a poor result may not be out of the realm of possibility for this American side.

NEXT UP: October 15 – WCQ: United States vs. Panama, Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama. 9:30 p.m. EST, beIN Sport.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.