June 10, 2013
By Michael Lewis
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying predictions
Even in June, it's starting to become crunch time in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
The final round of World Cup qualifying matches already has reached the halfway point for two teams -- Mexico and Jamaica -- and their four rivals will join them in yet another round on Tuesday night.
There is a logjam at the top of the group with surprising Costa Rica (2-1-1, seven points) leading the way by goal differential, followed by the United States (2-1-1, seven) and Mexico (1-0-4, seven). Just behind them is Panama (1-0-3, six) and then Honduras (1-2-1, four) and Jamaica (0-3-2, two).
Jamaica must find a way to to accrue escape with three points from Honduras or the Reggae Boyz's chances will be just about done, even after six games.
Here is a quick look at Tuesday's three games:
USA vs. Panama
This encounter is being played on grass that has been put over artificial turf at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. It has been a controversial decision as U.S. players have spoken for and against the quality of the temporary field.
He might not have been running the team then, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann might want to remind his troops that Panama stunned the Americans in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup behind a 2-1 win in Tampa. The game snapped a 26-game first-round home unbeaten streak (24-0-2) in the competition. However, in this confrontation, Los Canaleros won't have standout striker Blas Perez, who was left behind, suffering from gastroenteritis. It is not known when he will return. Coming off a scoreless home draw with Mexico, Panama has another opportunity end another long U.S. streak.
The Americans enter this match with a 23-game undefeated run (21-0-2) dating back to a wild 3-2 loss to Honduras in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 1, 2001. The Americans will be without two starters from their 2-1 11th-hour win in Jamaica -- midfielders Graham Zusi (yellow-card suspension) and Jermaine Jones (concussion in Jamaica game) -- and striker Herculez Gomez (knee), who has been released from the team. But they have shown they have some great depth and probably won't be hit as hard as Panama will be by Perez's absence.
Prediction: U.S. 2, Panama 2 -- The grass turf will play havoc with the game and result in one fluky goal.
Mexico vs. Costa Rica
Who would have predicted that the Ticos would be leading the group after four games? They have managed to take the group lead via goal differential -- by a goal over the U.S. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto has gotten the most out of his side that many observers predicted would finsih at the bottom of the hexagonal. The Costa Ricans still could, but stealing a point from what used to be the most difficult place in the confederation to accrue points will do much to boost their quest to reach Brazil. Pinto, however, said that his team will go for three points, not one. "Our intention is to go out and win a victory," he said. "We like the football environment that exists in Mexico, I feel that the selection of Costa Rica is much better prepared than before."
A good part of Mexico's problems have stemmed from its lack of offense. As talented as he is, Chicharito -- aka Javier Hernandez -- cannot do it by himself and needs to be fed. His partnerships with either Aldo de Nigris and Giovani dos Santos has not worked out. Carlos Vela, who has opted not to play for the national side, has been deeply missed. Then there is the lack of creativity from the right wing, from the likes of Pablo Barrera and Javier Aquino.
Simply put, the Mexicans need to win at home, not just to boost their standings, but to get their passionate and opinionated fans off their back. They'll be play in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, where El Tri used to be invincible. But two scoreless draws against Jamaica and the U.S. has taken some of the shine off of that. Regardless how it fares, Mexico has some other fish to fry after these series of qualifiers -- the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Prediction: Mexico 1, Costa Rica 1 -- El Tri's woes at home will continue. They'll have to wait until September.
Honduras vs. Jamaica
In a bottom of the table clash in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, these two teams might be desperate sides to make sure they don't fall further behind the pack. The Hondurans are playing at home, so they need three points; one -- a tie won't do. Los Catrachos will be playing without striker Carlo Costly (27 goals in 60 international matches), who will serving a yellow-card suspension for accruing his second yellow last Friday.
Coming off two devastating losses to Mexico and the U.S. at The Office last week, the Reggae Boyz face a must-win situation. Usually a tie would be considered a decent result on the road, but given the Jamaicans' cellar-dwelling status, they need three points in the worst way possible, especially since they won't play on June 18 while four rivals will and accrue points and make life more difficult in booking a spot. So, don't be surprised if coach Theodore Whitmore shakes up his lineup a bit to get some life and three points. One player he probably will stick with is striker Jermaine Beckford, who has scored six goals in as many games at the club and international level, including against the U.S. last Friday.
Prediction: Honduras 3, Jamaica 1 -- This could very well be Jamaica's last stand.