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Getting to Know the U.S. MNT Hexagonal Opponents

No stranger to its CONCACAF rivals, the U.S. Men’s National Team is set to face Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama twice each during the final round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying. With an all-time record of 58-49-31 combined against the five teams, the U.S. will look to qualify for its seventh consecutive FIFA World Cup tournament by finishing in the top three of the hexagonal group which plays matches from Feb. 6-Oct. 15, 2013. Here’s a look at the opponents and their sometimes intriguing history against the United States.

Federación Costarricense de Fútbol (Costa Rican Football Federation)
Founded: 1921 (Joined FIFA in 1927)
Head Coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
FIFA Ranking: 64
Highest FIFA Ranking: 17 (2003)
Lowest FIFA Ranking: 93 (1996)
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (1990)
Key Players: Bryan Ruiz (Fulham), Álvaro Saborío (Real Salt Lake), Cristian Bolaños (FC Copenhagen)

Record in Semifinal Round: 3-2-1, 10 points
Finish: Second Place in Group B
USA versus …

All-time: 11-12-6; 31 GF, 35 GA
In World Cup Qualifying: 5-8-3; 16 GF, 21 GA
At Home in World Cup Qualifying: 5-1-2; 10 GF, 4 GA
Away in World Cup Qualifying: 0-7-1; 6 GF, 17 GA

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Costa Rica wound up five points clear in second place of Group B in the Semifinal Round, which makes it all the more hard to imagine that they were on the brink of elimination with two matches to play. The Ticos held only four points from their first four matches, and following a home loss to Mexico they went to El Salvador needing nothing short of a victory to stave off elimination. Facing the intense crowd at Estadio Cuscatlan, Costa Rica snatched a 1-0 victory and then blasted Guyana 7-0 at home in their last match. Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio has been their talisman, recording six goals in six matches, while the defense conceded only five goals total.

AGAINST THE UNITED STATES: These teams are about as familiar as you can get in World Cup qualifying, having competed in 16 games through the last five qualifying cycles in which the U.S. participated (the USA hosted the ’94 World Cup and didn’t have to qualify). The U.S. has no victories and only one draw in Costa Rica, while the Ticos handed the U.S. only one of two home losses in World Cup qualifying since 1985. Their last meeting may have been the most memorable, when a  Jonathan Bornstein goal in the 95th minute earned the USA a 2-2 draw and first place in the group while denying Costa Rica a place in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Federación Nacional Autónoma de Fútbol de Honduras (Honduras National Football Federation)
Founded: 1951 (Joined FIFA in 1951)
Head Coach: Luis Fernandez Suárez
FIFA Ranking: 56
Highest FIFA Ranking: 20 (2001)
Lowest FIFA Ranking: 95 (1998)
Best World Cup Finish: Group Stage (1982, 2010)
Key Players: Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Jerry Bengston (New England Revolution), Carlo Costly (Veria FC), Wilson Palacios (Stoke City), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)

Record in Semifinal Round: 3-1-2, 11 points
Finish: First Place in Group C
USA versus …

All-time: 12-3-3; 31 GF, 17 GA
In World Cup Qualifying: 4-1-1; 11 GF, 8 GA
At Home in World Cup Qualifying: 1-1-0; 4 GF, 4 GA
Away in World Cup Qualifying: 3-0-1; 7 GF, 4 GA

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Honduras topped a tightly packed Group C, finishing ahead of Panama based on goal differential. A 2-0 loss at home to Panama in the opening match served as a wake-up call, and the Catrachos would not suffer another defeat throughout the round. A 0-0 draw in the return leg in Panama City set the table for the final match, with Honduras needing a victory to guarantee a spot in the final phase. At home in San Pedro Sula, the Hondurans delivered an emphatic thumping of Canada as both Jerry Bengston and Carlo Costly posted hat tricks in the 8-1 win. The defense proved stingy once again, conceding only three goals while collecting four shutouts including all three games on the road.

AGAINST THE UNITED STATES: The U.S holds a 4-1-1 advantage in the World Cup qualifying series overall, but the Hondurans have proved a formidable force. They are the last team to defeat the United States at home in qualifying, a 3-2 win on Sept. 1, 2001, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.  In two of the last three cycles, Honduras has only lost one match at home, and both proved pivotal to the USA’s cause. A 1-0 loss to Trinidad & Tobago in 2001 formed part of the puzzle that allowed the U.S. to qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup on Matchday 9, then nearly eight years the United States snatched a 3-2 win in San Pedro Sula that include five second-half goals and a late penalty miss by the hosts.  Of course, the U.S. did Honduras a solid four days later by earning a draw that sent the Catrachos to South Africa.

Jamaica Football Federation
Founded: 1910 (Joined FIFA in 1962)
Head Coach: Theodore Whitmore
FIFA Ranking: 50
Highest FIFA Ranking: 27 (1998)
Lowest FIFA Ranking: 116 (2008)
Best World Cup Finish: Group Stage (1998)
Key Players: Luton Shelton (Karabükspor), Nyron Nosworthy (Watford), JeVaughn Watson (Houston Dynamo)

Record in Semifinal Round: 3-2-1, 10 points
Finish: Second Place in Group A
USA versus …

All-time: 11-1-8; 33 GF, 12 GA
In World Cup Qualifying: 3-1-6; 12 GF, 7 GA
At Home in World Cup Qualifying: 3-0-2; 10 GF, 4 GA
Away in World Cup Qualifying: 0-1-4; 2 GF, 3 GA

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Group A proved a three-way race between Guatemala, Jamaica and the United States, and to their credit the Reggae Boyz were durable enough over the long haul to earn the second spot ahead of Guatemala based on goal differential.  After opening with a win at home against Guatemala and what was considered a stumble in Antigua with a 0-0 draw, Jamaica responded at home with one of the biggest wins in the country’s history when they took advantage of two free kick opportunities to defeat the United States for the first time ever. They lost the away leg to the U.S. in Columbus and kept it close in their 2-1 loss in Guatemala City, and poured in the four goals they needed in their final match at home to Antigua & Barbuda to move on to the final round. On a squad populated with several MLS regulars, six different goalscorers contributed to Jamaica’s efforts.

AGAINST THE UNITED STATES: The win against the USA was the country’s first in 19 tries, and also continued an unbeaten run at The Office which now stands at 1-0-4 in World Cup qualifying. The USA has been equally stodgy at home, holding a 9-0-3 overall and 3-0-2 in World Cup qualifying. The most famous result came Oct. 7, 2001, in Foxborough, Mass., when two goals from Joe-Max Moore lifted the U.S. to a 2-1 win that resulted in the USA qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup on a day when the team became the first to represent the United States following 9/11.

Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación A.C. (Mexican Football Federation)
Founded: 1927 (Joined FIFA in 1929)
Head Coach: Jose Manuel De La Torre
FIFA Ranking: 14
Highest FIFA Ranking: 4 (1998, 2006)
Lowest FIFA Ranking: 33 (2009)
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)
Key Players: Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Andres Guardado (Valencia), Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio)

Record in Semifinal Round: 6-0-0, 18 points
Finish: First Place in Group B
USA versus …

All-Time: 16-32-12; 69 GF, 130 GA
In World Cup Qualifying: 5-15-5; 29 GF, 65 GA
At Home in World Cup Qualifying: 4-4-2; 18 GF, 17 GA
Away in World Cup Qualifying: 0-13-1; 7 GF, 46 GA
On Neutral Site in World Cup Qualifying: 1-0-0; 4 GF, 2 GA

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Mexico proved the class of the Semifinal Round, plowing through Group B with a perfect 6-0-0 record and pumping in 15 goals while giving up only a pair. They finished with four straight shutouts, and bested Costa Rica in San Jose. Manchester United forward Javier Hernandez paced a plethora of goalscorers with three in the round, while 29 different players got a sniff of qualifying competition.

AGAINST THE UNITED STATES: Since 1997 when each team took points at the other’s venue, it’s been the home team rules. In fact, only the United States has scored on foreign soil in the last three cycles, with goals from Eddie Lewis in 2005 (that ultimately led to the USA’s first-place finish in the group) and Charlie Davies four years later. Here in the United States, the story has remained the same: Columbus, Ohio and 2-0. Estadio Azteca experienced a dent in its armor this past summer when the U.S. won there for the first time; regardless, this matchup remains the prize of CONCACAF.

Federación Panameña de Fútbol
Founded: 1937 (Joined FIFA in 1918)
Head Coach: Julio Dely Valdes
FIFA Ranking: 46
Highest FIFA Ranking: 43 (2012)
Lowest FIFA Ranking: 150 (1995)
Best World Cup Finish: Never qualified
Key Players: Blas Perez (FC Dallas), Felipe Baloy (Santos Laguna), Luis Tejada (Toluca)

Record in Semifinal Round: 3-1-2, 11 points
Finish: Second Place in Group C
USA versus …

All-Time: 8-1-2; 21 GF, 6 GA
In World Cup Qualifying: 3-0-1; 12 GF, 1 GA
At Home in World Cup Qualifying: 2-0-0; 8 GF, 0 GA
Away in World Cup Qualifying: 1-0-1; 4 GF, 1 GA

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Panama is the only team that still survives from the second round of qualifying in CONCACAF.  They started the Semifinal Round in fine fashion, pulling off a 2-0 victory in Honduras against a team traditionally very stingy at home.  Three more times they would keep a clean sheet, but with the scoreless draw on Matchday 5, the Marea Roja went into their away finale in Cuba needing a win to guarantee advancement. Down a goal with 13 minutes to play, Nelson Barahona notched the equalizer that eventually lifted Panama one point ahead of Canada and into the Hexagonal.

AGAINST THE UNITED STATES: The history in qualifying between these two teams resides solely in the 2006 cycle, when they dueled in both the semifinal and final phases. Cobi Jones rescued a point for the U.S. in the 92nd minute of a rain-soaked affair in Panama City, before a young striker named Eddie Johnson became the first U.S. player in history to score a hat trick coming off the bench during a 6-0 win at RFK Stadium. Overall, the United States went 3-0-1, unloading for 12 goals and only conceding one. Panama did gain some momentum during the 2011 Gold Cup, becoming the first team in history to hand the USA a loss in the group phase of the tournament.