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BRENT LATHAM - Wednesday, September 2, 2009
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More scenes like this to come?
This is a bit of an internet no-no, but YA's boss is out of the country, and there's no time to get the programmers to work on this.

So I'm going to suggest you go to the Spanish-language soccer site, and click on the little blue sub-title that says "simulador hexagonal." (Make sure to open a new window in your browser, and don't forget to come back to finish reading.)

You can play around prognosticating the potential outcomes of the remaining four dates of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and the table will calculate the final outcome given your changing assumptions.

OK, you're back? Yeah, it's pretty cool. No need to thank me.

Anyway, there's an important lesson here. Try to pick a combination – a reasonable one – that gets the Yanks through comfortably among the top three (that is, by three or four points and with a game to spare).

Yes, this hexagonal is officially too close for comfort. If the Americans want to avoid a November home and home playoff against South America's fifth place team, they've got their work cut out for them.

It has already been pointed out that the fifth place South American team could be super-talented Argentina or Uruguay. Or it could be an Ecuador team that plays its home games at a stadium some two thousand feet higher than El Azteca. Think Landon Donovan and company had trouble breathing in Mexico City?

FIFA has already determined that the CONCACAF team will host the first leg of the series, meaning the all-important second leg will be in South America. Prefer to try to beat Colombia or perennial power Paraguay in that scenario? Or maybe an away match in Venezuela that will make the anti-American atmosphere in Mexico City last month seem more like Des Moines on the 4th of July?

So, we can agree that the fourth place option doesn't really offer much margin for error this year.

What does that mean for the upcoming games against El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago? It may not seem like it, but they are both absolute must wins for Bob Bradley's team.

As our simulator shows, barring unusual circumstances, teams will need to accumulate at least seventeen points to get through the hex in the top three. There's even a reasonably likely scenario in which the four contenders – the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras - all end up tied on nineteen.

All four teams have two home games left, and one game remaining against each of the also-rans, El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago. The difference between direct qualification and that treacherous fourth place spot is likely to be the ability to hold serve at home, and beat El Salvador or Trinidad & Tobago in the corresponding road match.

Which puts the US at a slight disadvantage. Despite displaying an admirable amount of fight, both teams at the bottom of the table are just about out of the race for any of the four spots at this point. Unfortunately for the US, the Americans get both teams when they still have some mathematical possibilities left, meaning they'll still be fighting hard, with their first teams.

As each of those teams plays out the string against the remaining competitors, their motivation to win, and to call in their best players, will be gradually diminishing.

Besides the home games and the bottom of the table matches, also key will be the two match-ups between the top four teams in which the supposed regional powers, Mexico and the US, make visits to Central America. If Mexico can escape San Jose with a point on Saturday, or particularly if the US can manage a tie or better in its mid-October visit to Honduras, the dynamic changes slightly.

But one thing is clear for the Nats. Any yield of less than seven points over the next three games, and the Americans will find themselves in the unenviable position of needing three points from the final match at RFK, against a Costa Rica team likely to also be in desperate need of a victory.

Obviously, the best case scenario for the US would be to put all this talk to bed by winning its next three games, leaving it qualified, and likely at the top of the hexagonal for a second straight time, come that final match against Costa Rica.

It won't be easy, but this team can do it. Much, however, depends on how Coach Bob Bradley approaches the matches in question. Knowing he needs outright wins, will the coach stick to his pension for a more defensive counter attacking strategy in any of the matches? Will any of his planning include Brian Ching, or will he deem the combination of Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies ready to unleash on CONCACAF?

Bradley is making noises about being aggressive, at least against El Salvador. With an amply attack-minded lineup in each of the remaining games, the Americans are likely to prove to have too much firepower for the rest of the group, and have the potential to pull away from the contenders, leaving the other three sides to battle out the last two direct qualifying spots.

But if the US reverts, at any point, to a conservative, defensive style that relinquishes possession and relies on naively hopeful longballs aimed at Ching, then the next two months will be a slow process of suffering for American fans.

Worse than that, it won't be until the final whistle against Costa Rica that we find out if the next date on the fixture will be a casual November friendly, or a less than desirable winner-take-all match-up with a South American team.
Tuesday September 8, 2009 6:41 pm
Sorry, I can't stop obsessing over these scenarios.

I overlooked one important point. The only way we enter the last game without the need of points in to win against TnT and Honduras. There are many scenarios that require us to beat Costa Rica (meaning they get to play for a draw against us in the last game [ which could actually work in our favor since they might go into a shell and let us bombard them with offense for 90 minutes, kinda like Coach B. would have us do if we go into the last game only needing a draw, that could end up working against us from a Coach B. tactics perspective ]).

This is tremendously fascinating and will tell us a lot about our squad's makeup between the ears.
Tuesday September 8, 2009 6:40 pm
Looks kinda ugly. With the majority of realistic posibilitites that I tried, we end up third or forth. Let's be honest, the way Honduras is playing we probably will not get a point in Honduras. They have scored the most goals, and allowed the fewest and much of this was without their best player, and one of the top 2 or 3 players in CONCACAF David Suazo.

Therefore, we MUST win in Trinidad on the road and Costa Rica at home. If we lose against Trinidad, then we are going to have to win in Honduras. Simple as that.

If BB does his 2 CDM, someone needs to have his effen head examined. We also need goals to help us with goal differential tiebreakers.
Tuesday September 8, 2009 5:53 pm
Working through the 42 different scenarios (there's probably less than that realistically), the US really has their destiny easily in their hands. They need 5 points from the 3 games to qualify, doesn't matter how they come. Draw against TnT and Honduras then beat Costa Rica, we're in (if Mexico and Honduras draw, we go in on goal differential over Costa Rica).

I feel better after looking at it this way. If we can't get 5 points from these 3 games, we prove that the Confed Cup was a fluke and we don't belong in the World Cup. And we'll be looking for a new coach.
Tuesday September 8, 2009 10:27 am
I am more concerned with the fact that putting in the likely results (Costa Rica and Mexico taking care of T&T and El Salvador, and Mexico beating Honduras in Mexico City), our chances of qualifying with a game to spare is going to be very tough. In order for that last game to be meaningless, they HAVE to beat T&T tomorrow, and then they HAVE to beat Honduras in Honduras. A tie in either of those games likely puts us in a position to get at least a tie against Costa Rica in the final game.
Monday September 7, 2009 1:30 pm
Holy Cow!

I knew we weren't a shoo-in for qualifying but this is downright frightening.

Mexico is going to run the table. They're in with 21 (probably top spot).

Costa Rica will beat El Sal and TnT in the next 2 games. Giving them 18 points before the match at RFK (that will end up being the playoff to avoid THE playoff with CONMEBOL's #5).

Honduras will lose at Azteca but will win their last game at El Sal.

I gave the US a draw in all three games, just for kicks, in this scenario. We come in 4th one point behind Honduras.

A win against TnT and two draws, we come in 3rd one point ahead of Honduras (with the pressure of getting at least a draw in that last game).

I don't like any scenario that requires us to get a result on the last day. I truly believe that the team will not be ready for that pressure and will choke up under the weight of it all. Therefore, I'm not going to like any scenario. We will need a result on the last match day to qualify without travelling to South America.

Put on your seatbelts it's going to be a wild ride.
Sunday September 6, 2009 10:38 pm
USA will be @ the W.Cup for sure,(even with B. Bradley)the players are better then the rest of the concacaf (Davies,Jozy,Howard,Donovan,etc), but we are going to waste another W.Cup waiting for this coach to learn on the job.
Sunday September 6, 2009 8:41 am
i'm afraid that the team has a very realistic chance of not qualifying and i'm even more afraid that after that disasterous outcome bradley will still be the manager of the team.i see dark days ahead for the future
Jim Lough
Saturday September 5, 2009 11:25 am
My worry is the Trindad match. We need to win that match to reach the comfort zone, assuming a win at Rio Tinto. I have heard that T&T have added Fulham's Bobby Zamora to go with Kenwynne Jones up front. While Zamora does not score many goals, he a is good target man and, working with Jones, could cause us a lot more problems on defense. While I like Ching as a hard working player, it is the tactics we use when he is in the match that I don't like. Without a strong defensive midfield presence, we have to have more offensive pressure up front and hold the ball. Direct football just subjects us to more counterattacks that we have had trouble with in CONCACAF.
Friday September 4, 2009 2:22 pm
There is no realistic scenario in which the US doesn't finish in the top 4. So take heart from that.

But the bottom line is this: USA needs 8 points for safety (i.e. finish in the top 3). Basically win both home games, and take 2 points from the road. 7 points and the US almost assuredly will finish 4th. We simply cannot afford to drop any home points.
Thursday September 3, 2009 11:04 pm
USSF should had never hired Bradley, he's not qualified to manage a national team, maybe Canada but definitely not the USMNT. Hopefully, Gulati skips the MLS option after South Africa and chooses the a better qualified coach before the WC ends like its done throughout the world.
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