At this point, everyone knows what’s at stake for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Just two games remain in the World Cup qualifying cycle, and those two games will determine how and if the USMNT heads to Russia next summer.
Bruce Arena knows what those two games mean and he knows the scenarios that need to play out, and he also knows that those two games will present different and unique challenges.
The U.S. hosts Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando before visiting Trinidad & Tobago four days later to close out the Hexagonal. As things stand, the U.S. sits fourth in the Hex standings, one point behind Panama ahead of their upcoming clash. A third-place berth would send the U.S. straight to Russia. A fourth-place finish means a playoff against Australia or Syria.
“As we enter these last two games, our view is that we have to get at least four points and likely six points in order to qualify as the third team in CONCACAF,” Arena said, according to U.S. Soccer.
“I know it looks like were in a difficult situation, but we’re a point out of third place and we’re playing the team that’s ahead of us at home, so that’s a real positive,” he added. “If we’re able to beat Panama, we head into the last game with a very good chance of finishing third in the group. I like our chances, and at the end of the day it’s up to us. We have to play well in games nine and 10 in the Hex in order to qualify.”
“Panama and ourselves are fighting for the third and fourth position in the group,” Arena said. “They’re a point ahead of us, so when we play them we anticipate they’re going to have a really defensive look to themselves and look to catch us on the break.
“They’re a strong team physically. I think they’ll be very aggressive coming at us – fouling, looking to get out on the break and trying to create some chances off restarts. They’ll be tough to play against. We have to have a good mentality in that game, be very aggressive going forward, try to get a goal and make Panama chase the game.”
If the U.S. can take down Panama and earn all three points, the team will know a win in Trinidad will see them through. Depending on scenarios, a draw could be good enough as well, but that will depend on help from Costa Rica and Mexico. Costa Rica is all but set for the World Cup while Mexico’s spot has already been clinched.
T&T sits on the other end of the spectrum as the Soca Warriors know they will not be heading towards Russia next summer. However, that makes them dangerous as well as Arena is aware that T&T could stun the U.S. because they have nothing to lose.
“Trinidad is a different opponent,” he said. “When we play them in the tenth game, they will be out of the competition and that presents a problem. I think they’ll be a team that’s relaxed, has no pressure on them and can play free. They have a team with some good athletes, good pace and a difficult environment to play, so I think they will be challenging as well.”