Mexico on the verge of gaining early World Cup berth
Mexico has control of its fate and could qualify for next year's World Cup with a victory on Friday at home against Panama.
Qualifying with three matches still to play would let Mexico relax with Costa Rica and the United States - and even Panama and Honduras - battling for the two remaining automatic berths. A fourth team from the CONCACAF region can also advance in a playoff with the No. 5 team out of Asia.
Only Trinidad and Tobago, which is last in the six-team standings for North and Central America and the Caribbean, seems out of the picture.
Through six of 10 matches, Mexico has 14 points followed by Costa Rica (11), United States (8), Panama (7), Honduras (5), and Trinidad and Tobago (3).
A quick look at the matches:
Early qualification after disappointments this year in the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup should take some pressure off coach Juan Carlos Osorio. Mexico has given up only two goals in the last six qualifiers.
The situation is vastly different than four years ago when Mexico came within seconds of failing to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
''It's going to be difficult and complicated,'' Mexico forward Raul Jimenez said. ''They are going to play all-out, and we have to keep this in mind.''
Panama has never qualified for the World Cup, and its best shot this time is in the two-game playoff with Asia.
UNITED STATES-COSTA RICA
The United States, after losing its first two qualifiers under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, has rebounded with Bruce Arena in charge.
After the match on Friday against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, the U.S. plays Honduras at San Pedro Sula on Sept. 5, and then closes against Panama on Oct. 6 at Orlando, Florida, and at Trinidad four days later.
''It's on us to make sure that we can finish the job and allow ourselves the chance to look forward to playing at a World Cup next summer,'' midfielder Michael Bradley said.
Costa Rica's 4-0 battering of the United States on Nov. 15 in San Jose cost Klinsmann his job.
The United States has qualified for the last seven World Cups.
Honduras needs a victory at Port of Spain to stay in contention for a playoff spot.
''We're going to give everything in this match,'' said Honduras' Colombia-born coach Jorge Luis Pinto. ''We have to win.''
Honduras gave away two points in its last match, losing a 2-1 lead in the last minute and settling for a 2-2 draw at Panama.