The USMNT got a nice reminder that World Cup qualification isn’t that tough
When the U.S. men’s national team plays against St. Vincent & the Grenadines, it’s hard to take much from it. The “Vincy Heat” is a team that includes several amateurs who have day jobs, and they sit a whopping 130 places down from the USA in FIFA’s world rankings.
But when the USMNT walloped St. Vincent & the Grenadines 6-0 on Friday, moving significantly closer to the Hex, it was a pretty good reminder that qualifying for a World Cup in CONCACAF should never be very hard for the USMNT and any panic of missing out is probably not especially rational.
A little perspective: In order for the USMNT to fail to advance in 2018 World Cup qualifying, the Americans would’ve needed to get their two arguably worst results in the program’s history. Beating St. Vincent & the Grenadines, then Trinidad & Tobago at home, are not guaranteed, but pretty close, and that means making the Hex was never really in doubt.
But fans and pundits were quick to panic after the USMNT’s first leg loss to Guatemala in March. Some worried that the U.S. may not qualify for the final qualifying round, even though the USMNT has qualified for the last seven World Cups. To be sure, that loss was another low point under the tenure of coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but no one should expect anything less than qualification for the USMNT. After all, they shockingly stumbled against Guatemala, but in the end, they still had very beatable teams sitting in their way. The USMNT were more than capable of rebounding and controlling their destiny afterward.
That’s not to say how the U.S. performs in these games doesn’t matter. The U.S. is (still) in search of its attacking identity and these matches with real stakes attached them can help build chemistry and confidence, as well as expose potential vulnerabilities. But the panic over the USMNT’s loss to Guatemala was probably more about dissatisfaction with Klinsmann’s methods than a real sense the U.S. could miss out on the Hex.
It’s a fair criticism. The U.S. should have beat Guatemala, just as they did the Vincy Heat on Friday. That loss was evidence that the U.S. team still has plenty of work to do and struggles with consistency after a very poor 2015 that saw the USMNT get their worst Gold Cup finish in 15 years and lose to rival Mexico in a playoff for the Confederations Cup. But none of it should’ve meant the U.S. won’t advance in 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Yes, Mexico came close to missing out on the 2014 World Cup, so no result is ever guaranteed, but they still made it. And while the Hex can provide a tougher test, the semifinal round is still pretty easy for teams like Mexico and the U.S. — and at least, it should be.
The USMNT looks comfortable right now. If Trinidad & Tobago beat Guatemala on Friday, the U.S. is in. If those two teams draw, the U.S. is in unless something crazy happens. If the U.S. beats Trinidad & Tobago, they are in. So, in all of the likeliest of scenarios, the U.S. is in.
Anything less the USMNT moving on to the Hex is almost unthinkable and spectacularly unlikely. That was also the case after the loss to Guatemala in March — it may have been a low point, but even so, all they had to do is beat the Vincy Heat and Trinidad & Tobago. So, it probably serves as a good reminder that the Americans' road to qualification is pretty easy — even with a big stumble.
UPDATE: Trinidad & Tobago reserved their spot in the Hex after tying Guatemala on Friday night. Now, the only way the USMNT doesn't make the Hex is if they lose to Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday and Guatemala beats St. Vincent & the Grenadines by 12 goals in the final match of this round of qualifying. So yep, the USMNT is basically through to the Hex.
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