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USMNT Locked in Tight World Cup Battle

The USMNT missed a great opportunity to strengthen their grip on the CONCACAF World Cup qualification in the recent round of matches,

The World Cup is set to take place in Qatar, and the USMNT hopes to end the disappointment of missing out at the last tournament, but things are not going smoothly. Three teams are guaranteed a spot at the World Cup, but just two points separate four sides; Canada, the US, Mexico and Panama.

That gap should have been larger, but a below-par US side was held to a draw by Jamaica in the latest round of matches; a win could have sent them to the top of the group, and despite Tim Weah’s sensational opener, they couldn’t secure the win they needed. This came after they displaced group leader Mexico with a fine 2-0 win four days earlier.

“They weren’t happy with the point,” USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter is reported by Goal to have said after the game, “That’s a good sign. It shows that this group is highly motivated to win games and have high expectations for their performance.”

The surprise package is Canada, who beat both Costa Rica and Mexico in the last game week to move one point clear at the group’s top. They’ve only once qualified for the World Cup, way back in 1986, but they’re in a strong position, having played former group favorites Mexico twice. Despite that, the USMNT is still expected to go to Qatar next winter; they are currently ranked highest of all CONCACAF qualifiers with Bwin to win the World Cup, but their qualification is far from assured. Canada is the longest shot that markets are currently being offered on, but they’re proving to be in good shape, especially after beating Mexico for the first time in more than 21 years.

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There are still six games to play, which means a possible 18 points, so any one of the eight sides could qualify. It is realistically looking like Canada, the US, Mexico, and Panama will take three of the four spaces, with an outside chance for Jamaica or Costa Rica to steal the playoff place.

The big date looming for the USMNT is January 30; that’s when they travel to Canada for a crunch tie. At that point, one would imagine a point will still separate the two, but defeat could make it a challenging final four matches. The US also must travel to Mexico (March 24) and host Panama (March 27) in a tough last group of games.

As for Canada, the surprise group leaders, they only have the USMNT and Panama to face from the current top four, giving them a relatively easy run-in. They should confirm their place in the top three before their March 30 trip to Panama, making history. Canada is undefeated in qualifying so far, the only side to not lose a game in the group.

However, the USMNT will be in no mood to concede their grip on the fascinating qualifying group, whilst out-of-form Mexico will perhaps fear having to qualify through a playoff. That could leave them at risk of not qualifying for a World Cup for the first time since 1982 (they missed 1990, but were banned rather than failed to qualify). Their back-to-back defeats were the first they’ve suffered during qualification, and their confidence may well have been knocked.

The USMNT are still in good shape, but their draw against Jamaica undid some of the good work they’ve been putting in, and might just lead to a loss of confidence. It’s all to play for in the CONCACAF division, a fascinating tight race for a place in soccer’s elite tournament.

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