How big is the USMNT match in Costa Rica for their World Cup qualifying hopes?

Trevor Ruszkowski/Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The United States lost to Mexico in their World Cup qualifying final round opener. That's not a big deal. After all, El Tri are the best team in CONCACAF and had the Americans not had such a great run against them at home, not to mention the legend of Dos a Cero, it would have felt like a disappointing loss, but hardly a crushing one. The problem is what's next.

The Americans now go to Costa Rica, where they have never won – a place where they've only once managed a draw. And if they do lose on Tuesday, they may have to make history to make the World Cup.

Ever since CONCACAF adopted its current format for the final round of World Cup qualifying – six teams in a single table and all playing home-and-away to determine a top three that goes to the World Cup – no team has lost its first two matches and qualifier for the World Cup. Three times, Jamaica in 1998 qualifying, Honduras in 2010 and Costa Rica in 2014, have teams made it into the top three after taking one point from their first two matches, so if the Americans can snag a draw in Costa Rica on Tuesday, they can be in that lane.

Basically, a draw isn't historically problematic, but a loss would mean they'd have to do what no CONCACAF team has ever done to get into the top three automatic qualifying spots.

Even if the U.S. do lose to Costa Rica, they're not completely out of it. Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the 2006 World Cup even after losing their first two matches of the Hex, but they didn't do it by getting into the top three. They were fourth, which sent them to an inter-conferedation playoff that they won, a road that the U.S. could take. But Trinidad and Tobago got lucky – they only had to beat a weak Bahrain team in the playoff. If the playoff was set to be played right now, the U.S. would play either Japan or South Korea. Either would be difficult.

Of course, history can be made. Just because no team has lost their first two and then finished strong enough to qualify doesn't automatically mean the U.S. can't. And just because they might have to play a tough playoff against Japan or South Korea to get in doesn't mean they can't win that either. The Americans absolutely can. They're plenty good enough too and Jurgen Klinsmann's teams have played well with their backs against the wall. But that doesn't mean that losing their first two matches wouldn't put them in a deep and historically difficult hole.

So how big is the United States' match against Costa Rica? Getting a result isn't make or break, but it does put them in a position to do what no other team has ever done or miss out on the World Cup entirely.

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