Mexico and Us

American and Mexican Flag by victoriabernalMexico and Us (See What I Did There?)

It’s never comfortable to find yourself in agreement with Alexi Lalas, but I think he’s right in claiming (at the end of this clip) that Mexico’s position in the Hex is a lot more surprising than Costa Rica’s.  Nonetheless, the unavailability of Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, and almost certainly Michael Bradley raises questions about US chances going into Tuesday’s game against Mexico.  Just how vulnerable is the US, against Mexico and on through the final three games of qualification?  And conversely, where exactly does Mexico stand in qualification?

Against Mexico, I’d say our chances are considerably worse than they were 24 hours ago.  The combination of losing the players mentioned above and the firing of Chepo de la Torre means that an understrength US squad will be facing a Mexico team inspired by (and looking to impress) a new coach.  The only upside is that Tuesday’s game will be too soon for Luis Fernando Tena to have much effect, which may slightly dampen the bump that usually comes with a managerial change.  Even so, Torre seems to have been the kind of coach whose departure alone may prove inspirational.  I still think a tie is a more likely result than a loss, but it’s probably also more likely than a win now.  I certainly won’t be putting any money on the US between now and Tuesday.

Going forward, the US will have no problem securing a spot at the World Cup.  Even if we lose to Mexico, a home game with Jamaica and an away at Panama should earn four-six points.  Four points will put us at 17, which would tie a Mexico that had won out.  We currently have a +2 goal differential against El Tri, meaning that we’d need to drop those two goals against Mexico (H), Jamaica (H), and Panama (A) in comparison to Mexico’s results against the US (A), Panama (H), and Costa Rica (A).  Even assuming a radical turn-around in El Tri’s performances (an odds on bet IMHO), that’s an unlikely prospect.  A tie against Mexico would still mean that a home win against winless Jamaica would see us into the World Cup (and a tie would leave us needing only a tie to secure a spot against Panama).

  CONCACAF P W D L F A   GD Pts Last Three Games
1 Costa Rica 7 4 2 1 10 4   6 14 J(a), H(a), M(h)
2 United States 7 4 1 2 8 6   2 13 M(h), J(h), P(a)
3 Honduras 7 3 1 3 8 8   0 10 P(h), CR(h), J(a)
4 Mexico 7 1 5 1 4 4   0 8 US(a), P(h), CR(a)
5 Panama 7 1 4 2 5 7   -2 7 H(a), M(a), US(h)
6 Jamaica 7 0 3 4 2 8   -6 3 CR(h), US(a), H(h)

Nor is winning the group out of the question.  Even though Costa Rica will almost certainly win their next game against Jamaica (A), they close out with two toughs games against Honduras (A) and Mexico (H).  That probably means that a win against Mexico puts the US in line to slip past Costa Rica due to their easier finish.  A tie, on the other hand, should give Costa Rica enough of an edge to make it very close, and a loss would probably make them favorites.

Mexico, on the other hand, have their work cut out for them.  Honduras has a two point lead, with two home games (Panama and Costa Rica) before an away game with hapless Jamaica.  That means that even if Mexico wins out, they will likely need Costa Rica to get the job done in Honduras to get out of the 4th place play-in spot.  At least they can take comfort in Panama’s difficult closing schedule, away to Honduras and Mexico before a home game against the US.  It would be very surprising if Mexico did not at least escape the Hex, but a play-in game against New Zealand is a definite possibility.  Mexico will certainly be rooting for Jamaica to magically turn things around in their final three games against the teams above El Tri.

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