The U.S. Men’s National Team has played in the last seven World Cups – one of only six nations in the world to accomplish that feat – and some people naturally assume that every four years the U.S. is just penciled into the bracket. Not so!
In fact, qualifying for the FIFA World Cup out of CONCACAF is a marathon. Since the current qualifying format was adopted for the 1998 tournament, the U.S. has had to play 16-18 matches spanning two years in order to book its place in the FIFA World Cup.
In the case of the current cycle, the MNT began its quest to qualify for Russia 2018 when it started play in CONCACAF’s Semifinal Round in November 2015. Having finished on top of a group that also featured Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the U.S. now finds itself in the CONCACAF's Final Round of World Cup Qualifying.
The six-team group, nicknamed “The Hex” (short for Hexagonal), pits the top two teams from each of CONCACAF’s three semifinal groups – in this case, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and USA -- in a home-and-away mini-league which began in November 2016 and concludes in October 2017. At the end of the 10-game schedule, the top three teams in The Hex automatically qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Meanwhile, the fourth-place team from CONCACAF will go into an intercontinental playoff with the fifth-place finisher from the Asian Football Confederation’s own qualifying tournament. The winner over two games will be 32nd and final entrant into the World Cup.
Got all that?
Here’s a breakdown of the 10-game schedule the MNT will have to navigate to qualify for its eighth consecutive FIFA World Cup, with a little history added in.
USA 1, Mexico 2 - Nov. 11, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio
Having defeated Mexico 2-0 in each of its previous four Final Round matches played in Columbus, Ohio, the MNT went back to MAPFRE Stadium in November, where they fell 2-1 to a talented Mexico side.
A deflected effort from Miguel Layun gave Mexico a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute, before the U.S. suffered another setback when goalkeeper Tim Howard suffered a fractured right adductor while taking a routine goal kick and had to leave the match in the 40th minute. After halftime, the U.S. bounced back through Bobby Wood's 49th minute strike and had chances to push ahead that came up empty. Just as it looked like both teams would settle for a 1-1 draw, Mexico captain Rafael Marquez headed home an 89th minute corner kick from Layun to give El Trí all three points.
WATCH: U.S. Falls 2-1 to Mexico in November
Costa Rica 4, USA 0 - Nov. 15, 2016 in San Jose, Costa Rica
Four days after falling to Mexico, the U.S. traveled to Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica for a match against Los Ticos. The MNT's success rate in Costa Rica had never been great and while the U.S. nearly went into halftime tied 0-0, but Johan Venegas pushed the home side ahead in the 44th minute. Costa Rica then added strikes from Cristian Bolańos and a brace from Joel Campbell to run out 4-0 winners.
In the days following the match, Jurgen Klinsmann was replaced by former MNT head coach Bruce Arena, who is charged with righting the ship for the U.S. to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
USA 6, Honduras 0 - March 24, 2017 in San Jose, Calif.
After dropping its opening Final Round qualifiers to Mexico and Costa Rica, the USA entered the March slate of games with the necessity to #Get3 points at home against Honduras. Under the guidance of Arena, the team showed up to Avaya Stadium in a big way, using goals from Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic and a hat trick from Clint Dempsey to lay down a 6-0 drubbing on Los Catrachos.
The resounding result came despite a number of injury setbacks, showed the response of the team to new leadership under Arena and helped symbolize the MNT's turnaround in its goal of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
WATCH: USA Turns Things Around With 6-0 Win vs. Honduras
Panama 1, USA 1 - March 28, 2017 in Panama City, Panama
Four days later, the USA traveled to take on a Panama side that it was in direct competition with for one of the top three spots in the Hex. What transpired at Estadio Rommel Fernandez was a cagey and physical match, high on atmosphere, but devoid of many chances.
A moment of brilliance from Christian Pulisic saw the U.S. jump on board first. The young attacker chased down a ball up the right side before dispossession Felipe Baloy and shaking off a second defender before centering for Clint Dempsey who scraped home the opening goal in the 39th minute. Just as the U.S. looked headed to halftime, Panama equalized when a long throw in led to a break in the defense and allowed Gabriel Gomez to put home the equalizer from close range.
Just after the break, Pulisic saw a great volley turned away by Baloy, while goalkeeper Tim Howard came up with two big stops to preserve the 1-1 draw and an important away point.
After starting the March qualifying set in last place, the win and draw handed the USA four crucial points and moved the side up to fourth heading into June.
WATCH: U.S. Battles Hard for Important Away Point in Panama
USA 2, Trinidad & Tobago 0 - June 8, 2017 in Commerce City, Colo.
With momentum for March, the U.S. took a high-altitude approach to its June set of qualifiers, playing a warmup friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, before taking on Trinidad & Tobago at the 5,280 feet provided by Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. Though favored against the Soca Warriors, the USA was left frustrated in the first half due to the stellar play of Jan-Michael Williams and entered the locker room knotted at 0-0.
The deadlock was broken in the 52nd minute when a clever pass from Jorge Villafaña found Christian Pulisic who poked home the opening goal. Ten minutes later, Jozy Altidore cleverly picked out Pulisic's run before the attacker slotted the icing goal past Williams, giving the USA a 2-0 victory and another crucial three points at home.
WATCH: Pulisic Brace Hands U.S. 2-0 Win vs. Soca Warriors
Mexico 1, USA 1 - June 11, 2017 in Mexico City, Mexico
With nearly two weeks of altitude adjustment under its belt, the U.S. Men's National Team headed to the vaunted Estadio Azteca to take on rivals Mexico on Matchday 6. A young U.S. midfield featuring Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta was joined by captain Michael Bradley, who opened the scoring with a stunning goal just six minutes in. The veteran midfielder anticipated a pass in midfield, quickly countered and sent a 40-yard chip over Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The U.S. continued attacking and came close again through Bobby Wood in the 23rd minute. The saved attempt was quickly collected by Ochoa who sent an outlet pass through midfield to start a Mexico counter and led to the equalizer through Carlos Vela. Both teams would trade chances the rest of the way and Bradley's second effort from distance rang off the post, but in the end, the sides would share the spoils, giving the USA its third all-time draw in World Cup Qualifying at Estadio Azteca.
WATCH: Bradley Chip Spurs USA to Road Point at Azteca
USA 0, Costa Rica 2 - Sept. 1, 2017
Riding high off strong performances during June's World Cup Qualifiers and July's Gold Cup championship, the MNT welcomed fellow CONCACAF power Costa Rica to Red Bull Arena. While the U.S. had a number of dangerous opportunities, they were thwarted by the stellar play of goalkeeper Keylor Navas and an unlikely brace from Ticos and San Jose Earthquakes forward Marco Ureña in a 2-0 loss.
WATCH: MNT Falls 2-0 to Costa Rica on Matchday 7
Honduras 1, USA 1 - Sept. 5, 2017
Thanks to the home defeat vs. Costa Rica and other results on Matchday 7, the U.S. found itself with little room for error when it visited Honduras on Sept. 5. A mid-afternoon kickoff meant the players on the field were dealing with heat and humidity that made the temperature feel like it was over 100 degrees. Despite that factor, the MNT looked steady and comfortable through the early going, only to be undone when Rommel Quioto put the home side up 1-0 in the 27th minute. Nail biting moments ensued, but the USA stayed composed and earned a late free kick when Christian Pulisic was upended about 10 yards from the penalty area. Kellyn Acosta's ensuing take was well saved by Honduras 'keeper Luis Lopez, but a scramble to the right of goal involving Matt Besler and Jordan Morris keeping the ball alive before Bobby Wood buried the dramatic 85th minute equalizer. The goal stood up through the remaining minutes as the U.S. earned an important 1-1 draw.
With Honduras sitting level with the U.S. going into the match, the late goal was crucial in making sure the U.S stayed in control of its own destiny going into October's final set of matches.
WATCH: How They Scored - Bobby Wood's Important Equalizer in Honduras
October 6, 2017 - USA vs. Panama
Historically speaking, the MNT will still be in need of points to qualify when they host Los Canaleros on Matchday 9. The U.S. has won all three of its previous home World Cup Qualifying matches against Panama, outscoring the Central American side 10-0 in process. Last go around, the USA also played a major role in denying Panama a potential place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup when Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson's stoppage time strikes doomed the nation to just missing out on CONCACAF's fourth-place playoff spot. The result has appeared to motivate an improved Panama side, with Los Canaleros playing the USA to four consecutive 1-1 draws, including March's result in Panama City, ever since.
The stakes for USA-Panama, presented by Volpi Foods, are similar to that 2013 match. A Panama win on U.S. soil would see the side book its first World Cup appearance, while a U.S. victory would push the MNT two points ahead of Los Canaleros, keeping the team in the driver's seat for its Matchday 10 visit to Trinidad & Tobago.
WATCH: U.S. sees off Panama during 2013 Hex in Seattle
All-Time WCQ Record vs. Panama: 5-0-2
All-Time Home WCQ Record vs. Panama: 3-0-0
October 10, 2017 - Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA
In 1989, the MNT visited Trinidad & Tobago on the final day of World Cup Qualifying knowing that only a win would take the USA to its first World Cup since 1950. On that day, the task of winning away in Port of Spain was no foregone conclusion, and Paul Caligiuri’s “shot heard ‘around the world’ launched the modern era of U.S. Soccer. Flash forward almost 30 years, and anything less than three points there hasn’t met expectations. The MNT learned that lesson last in November 2015 following a 0-0 draw in its semifinal round match at Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Similar to the match in 1989, this last qualifying game will have huge stakes for the United States, who will no doubt need some kind of result in Trinidad in order to book its ticket to Russia. Not so similar is the fact that the game will be played in tiny Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, approximately 45 minutes away from Hasely Crawford Stadium in the capital, Port of Spain.
WATCH: Paul Caligiuri sends USA to first World Cup since 1950
All-Time WCQ Record vs. Trinidad & Tobago: 13-1-3
All-Time Away WCQ Record at Trinidad & Tobago: 4-1-2
Photos from the U.S. Men's National Team 4-0 loss to Costa Rica on Nov. 15 in San Jose, Costa Rica. The U.S. MNT battled through a physical and feisty match but ultimately succumbed to Costa Rica in its first away qualifier of the Final Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying.Read more
During the past few months, Lynden Gooch has become one of the most intriguing prospects for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Here are five things to know about the rising MNT winger.
Where It All Started
Born on Christmas Eve 1995 to an English father and Irish mother in Santa Cruz, Calif., Gooch has said he was kicking a soccer ball from the moment he could walk.
A long-time supporter of Tottenham Hotspur, his father also served as his club coach with a number of sides, including the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s Santa Cruz Breakers.
“Without my dad, I wouldn’t be the player I am today,” Gooch said in a recent Facebook Live chat. “He brought me up to play with both feet and to be creative. I’m very thankful for what he’s done for me.”
As a 10-year-old, Gooch took a club trip to England where he scored a hat trick against Sunderland. That occurrence began a long-time connection with one of northeast England’s biggest clubs, with the Black Cats inviting the promising midfielder for training every spring and summer at the Stadium of Light.
After impressing on his trips to England, Gooch signed with the club’s youth academy in 2012, progressing from their U-16 side all the way up to the U-21s. A loan spell with Conference side Gateshead in early 2015 opened the door for his first team debut with Sunderland, which came in a 6-3 League Cup win against Exeter City on Aug. 26, 2015.
Gooch gained more first team experience with a loan to League One outfit Doncaster Rovers in January before returning to Sunderland this spring.
Under the guidance of David Moyes, who has also managed Americans Tim Howard, Brian McBride and Landon Donovan during their time in England, Gooch made his league debut for the club in this year’s season opener against Manchester City and earned Man of the Match honors in the club’s 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough on August 21.
Capable of playing as a winger, second forward and in central midfield, the 20-year-old has been a constant in the club’s matchday squad through their early Premier League campaign.
Owing to his mother’s Irish heritage, Gooch’s first international call-up actually came from the Republic of Ireland’s U-18 squad in 2013. Though he played in a friendly match against Switzerland, the California-born midfielder always had his heart set on representing the United States, and two years later he helped the U.S. U-20s qualify for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, though he didn’t make the final roster.
U.S. MNT Comes Calling
Despite missing out on the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Gooch’s play at Sunderland kept him on the radar of the U.S. Men’s National Team. His start to the 2016-17 English Premier League campaign earned him his senior team call-up for the MNT’s October friendlies in 2016 and would make his international debut when he entered for Kellyn Acosta in the 59th minute of a 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Oct. 11.
Recalled for the MNT’s November World Cup Qualifying matches, Gooch’s substitute appearance away to Costa Rica on Nov. 15 officially cap-tied him to the United States.
Growing up near San Jose, Calif., Gooch was able to watch budding American superstar Landon Donovan week-in and week-out during his time with the San Jose Earthquakes, and from afar always admired Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs.
On a more personal level, the 20-year-old attacker also admitted he was a big fan of former U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu, whose nickname matches his own last name.
Learn more about Lynden Gooch by watching his recent Facebook Live chat:
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Nov. 15, 2016) – The U.S. Men’s National Team battled through a physical and feisty match but ultimately succumbed to a 4-0 defeat to Costa Rica in its first away qualifier of the Final Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying.
An even first half saw both teams carve out chances, but it was Costa Rica forward Johan Venegas whose header broke the deadlock in the 44th minute. The USA came out in the second frame looking for the equalizer, but as they pushed forward, Costa Rica was able to take advantage on multiple occasions. Bolaños finished in the 68th minute before substitute Joel Campbell grabbed a brace in the 74th and 78th to cement victory for the home side before a sold-out crowd of 35,400 at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica.
The defeat brings a tough end to 2016 for the USA (12-6-1), which finished fourth at Copa American Centenario and finished atop its Semifinal Round World Cup Qualifying group to advance to the Hex.
Goal Scoring Rundown:
CRC – Johan Venegas (Christian Bolaños), 44th minute: After an even first half, Costa Rica broke through just before the break. Randall Azofeifa played a looping ball over the top that Bolaños chased down in the left corner. With space to work, he held up before sending a pinpoint cross for Johan Venegas. The Montreal Impact attacker met the ball at the near post, where he directed a header down past Brad Guzan into the center of the goal. CRC 1, USA 0 [WATCH]
CRC – Christian Bolaños (Bryan Ruiz), 68th minute: Costa Rica gained their second goal when Bryan Ruiz slipped down the right before centering an outside of the foot cross for Venegas, whose powerful header was partially saved by Guzan before sneaking over the goal line. CRC 2, USA 0
CRC – Joel Campbell, 74th minute: A looping ball over the top saw John Brooks misplay the bounce straight into the path of substitute Joel Campbell. The attacker slid past Brooks to go in alone on goal, where he slotted the ball inside the left post. CRC 3, USA 0
CRC – Joel Campbell (Ronald Matarrita), 78th minute: Ronald Matarrita lobbed a ball forward out of midfield which saw Campbell time his run to beat the offside trap. In alone, he once again finished low inside the left post. CRC 4, USA 0 FINAL
Key Saves and Defensive Stops:
USA – Brad Guzan, 7th minute: After a boisterous opening few minutes, Costa Rica grabbed the first chance of the match when Johan Venegas slipped into the box on the left and tapped the ball through the legs of John Brooks before hitting a quick strike that Brad Guzan came well off his line to turn away with a kick save.
USA – Brad Guzan, 14th minute: Costa Rica threatened again seven minutes later when Christian Bolaños’ ball over the top picked out Bryan Ruiz in stride. With his back to the goal, the veteran attacker chested the ball down before letting lose a half-bicycle kick that struck Guzan in the face as he hovered off his line.
CRC – Keylor Navas, 28 minute: After the USA won the ball at midfield, Jozy Altidore began a run up the left that saw the veteran forward combined with Christian Pulisic at the top of the area. The Borussia Dortmund youngster played along the top of the box before sliding a pass for Fabian Johnson who hit a slightly deflected, low blast that Ticos goalkeeper Keylor Navas did well to get down to for the save.
USA – Brad Guzan, 57th minute: A quick drop kick from Navas saw Venegas get into a foot race with Timmy Chandler. As they chased down the ball in the USA penalty area, Venegas came away with the ball and let off a quick shot that Guzan charged off his line to turn away with a kick save.
- The result sees the USA finish 2016 with a 12-6-1 record.
- The MNT moves to 6-9-3 vs. Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying and 0-9-1 all-time in qualifiers played on Costa Rican soil.
- Jozy Altidore earned his 33rd career World Cup Qualifying cap for the MNT, moving him into a tie for third all-time with DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard. The 27-year-old forward ends 2017 with 99 all-time appearances for the USA.
- Timmy Chandler and Jermaine Jones both picked up their second yellow cards of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying, which will see them serve a one-match suspension in the USA’s Matchday 3 home date with Honduras on March 28, 2017.
- Lynden Gooch made his World Cup Qualifying debut for the MNT when he entered for Christian Pulisic in the 70th minute. The substitute appearance officially cap ties him to the USA.
- Alejandro Bedoya did not dress for the U.S. MNT due to a tight left hamstring.
- MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann deployed a four-man back line which featured Timmy Chandler at right back, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler as the tandem in central defense and Matt Besler at left back.
- From right to left, the four-man midfield was Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson.
- Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood started together up front for the fifth time in 2016.
- U.S. Men’s National Team Match Report -
Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Costa Rica
Date: Nov. 15, 2016
Competition: 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia – Qualifier
Venue: Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica; San Jose, Costa Rica
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET
Attendance: 35,400 (so)
Weather: 69 degrees; Mostly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 0 0
CRC 1 3 4
CRC – Johan Venegas (Cristian Bolaños) 44th minute
CRC – Cristian Bolaños (Bryan Ruiz) 68
CRC – Joel Campbell 74
CRC – Joel Campbell (Ronald Matarrita) 78
USA: 1-Brad Guzan; 21-Timmy Chandler, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 6-John Brooks, 5-Matt Besler; 23-Fabian Johnson (19-Graham Zusi, 77), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 13-Jermaine Jones (16-Sacha Kljestan, 74), 10-Christian Pulisic (11-Lynden Gooch, 70); 17-Jozy Altidore, 7-Bobby Wood
Subs: 12-Ethan Horvath, 22-William Yarbrough, 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 8-Alan Gordon, 9-Aron Johannsson, 14-Michael Orozco, 15-Steve Birnbaum, 18-Julian Green, 20-Cameron Carter-Vickers
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
CRC: 1-Keylor Navas; 3-José Salvatierra, 19-Kendall Waston, 2-Johnny Acosta, 4-Michael Umaña, 22-Ronald Matarrita; 7-Cristian Bolaños, 14-Randall Azofeifa (17-Yeltsin Tejeda, 70), 5-Celso Borges, 10-Bryan Ruiz (13-Rodney Wallace, 84); 11-Johan Venegas (12-Joel Campbell, 67)
Subs: 18-Patrick Pemberton, 23-Leonel Moreira, 6-Pablo Salazar, 8-Bryan Oviedo, 9-Ariel Rodríguez, 15-Allan Miranda, 16-Leonardo González, 20-David Guzmán, 21-Marco Ureña
Head coach: Óscar Ramírez
Stats Summary: USA / CRC
Shots: 6 / 15
Shots on Goal: 1 / 9
Saves: 4 / 1
Corner Kicks: 4 / 2
Fouls: 13 / 12
Offside: 2 / 1
CRC – José Salvatierra (caution) 9th minute
USA – Timmy Chandler (caution) 11
USA – Jermaine Jones (caution) 37
CRC – Johnny Acosta (caution) 51
USA – Michael Bradley (caution) 55
USA – Jozy Altidore (caution) 71
Referee: César Ramos (MEX)
Assistant Referee 1: Marvin Torrentera (MEX)
Assistant Referee 2: Miguel Angel Hernández (MEX)
4th Official: Fernando Guerrero (MEX)
Budweiser Man of the Match: TBARead more