Nine points would have been ideal, but six points were enough. The USMNT control their destiny following the second to last round of 2022 World Cup Qualifying.
Through 11 matches and with only three remaining, Canada sits in front of the group with 25 points, has yet to be beaten, and has officially qualified for the World Cup Playoff Match, at least (facing who will likely be New Zealand in a head-to-head match as the fourth-place finisher).
This means that even if Canada drops all three of their final games, they will still have a chance to qualify for Qatar. Honduras and Jamaica have both been officially eliminated and El Salvador (9 points) can no longer finish in the top three of the group, meaning their World Cup hopes wholly rely on reaching the fourth seed, which would require a complete collapse by both Panama (17 points) and Costa Rica (16 points) over the last three games.
So what does all that mean for the United States? With Canada already being through and the bottom three teams all effectively being eliminated, its a four-team race for two and a half spots between the US, Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica with only five points separating them all. The USMNT currently sits ahead of that group but, coincidentally, will have to face all three of them over the last three matches, including having to go to Mexico and closing out qualifying at Costa Rica.
Mexico has the “easiest” road of them all, aside from another head-to-head match with the US, as they close out qualifying heading to Honduras and hosting El Salvador. Panama gets Honduras at home before traveling to face the US, then hosting Canada in what will likely be a must-win for the Panamanians. And finally, Costa Rica will host Canada before heading into El Salvador, then close out vs the U.S. as previously mentioned.
The USMNT now controls their fate, given that any victory for them creates valuable distance in the standings, but a dropped match could be equally devastating. The lead the US has over Panama and Costa Rica gives a small amount of room for mistakes, but having to earn a result on the road in Mexico is a tall task and that buffer may not last long. This is only amplified by the high likelihood that Mexico will earn six points following their match with the US and secure one of the automatic bids. The US beating Panama at home is a must, especially to avoid having to then walk into Ricardo Saprissa Stadium in need of three points and with an eye on Panama.
Thankfully there is still room for some help, as Canada can earn automatic qualification with a victory at Costa Rica, the the Canucks will likely be the States most helpful friend if they can prevent Panama from earning points on the final match day. This all also assumes the teams at the bottom of the standing don’t come out and decide to play spoiler, and certainly crazier things have happened in CONCACAF.
With the haunting nightmares of the 2018 World Cup still fresh on everyone’s mind, being in a more secure spot this late into qualifying would be much more ideal, but still having to wrap up qualifying in pressure situations will go a long way for this young team. As long as they come together and prove they have what it takes, that is.