Action from World Cup qualifier between host Panama and Mexico (green jersey) on November 15, 2016, in Panama City. (Photo: Luis Licona/Straffon Images)
MIAMI -- What a reversal of fortunes!
A comparison of the opening two games from the CONCACAF Hexagonals for the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups shows Costa Rica and Mexico are up, while the United States is down.
CONCACAF.com takes a look at the six sides competing currently in the final qualifying round for Russia 2018.
CONCACAF Hexagonal Team Comparison
(after two games in 2014 & 2018)
2014 Record/Position: 0-1-1 (2GF, 3GA) / 6th place
2018 Record/Position: 2-0-0 (6GF, 0GA) / 1st place
Powered by wins over Trinidad & Tobago (2-0, away) and the United States (4-0, home), the Ticos find themselves in the drivers' seat as the only team with six points. That is a giant leap from their Brazil 2014 start as they were forced to chase the rest of the group after a 0-1-1 start. Christian Bolaños has been an offensive force, scoring once in each win and assisting on a goal against the USA. Left-back Ronald Matarrita, named New York City FC defender of the year earlier this week, tallied a goal in the first match and set up the second goal by halftime-substitute Joel Campbell.
2014 Record/Position: 1-1-0 (4GF, 3GA) / 1st place
2018 Record/Position: 1-0-1 (3GF, 2GA) / 4th place
Two home losses to open the Hexagonal could have been disastrous for fourth-place Honduras, but a 1-0 setback to Panama in the opener was followed by a confidence-boosting 3-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago. Romell Quioto struck for his team-best third goal of the qualifying campaign, while Emilio Izaguirre and Eddie Hernandez notched their first. After two games for 2014, Honduras topped the table thanks to a win over the visiting USA (2-1) and a draw at Mexico (2-2), with goals by Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson erasing a 2-0 deficit.
2014 Record/Position: 0-2-0 (2GF, 2GA) / 4th place
2018 Record/Position: 1-1-0 (2GF, 1GA) / 2nd place
In 2014, Mexico’s uneven start helped to define its fourth-place finish and final 2-5-3 record. Despite playing their first two matches on the road in the current cycle, the Mexicans have bolted out of the gate much quicker for Russia 2018. A 2-1 win over the host U.S. saw veteran defender Rafael Marquez, who was red carded in the 2009 encounter, net the game-winner on a late header. After that encouraging triumph, Mexico gained a valuable point in a scoreless draw at Panama.
2014 Record/Position: 0-2-0 (3GF, 3GA) / 3rd place
2018 Record/Position: 1-1-0 (1GF, 0GA) / 3rd place
Numbers can be misleading. For 2014, Panama started with two draws and three goals scored. In this Hexagonal, it has scored only one goal, but gained four precious points and currently sits in third-place. The Canaleros improved to 3-2-0 in its last five qualifiers against Honduras, winning 1-0 on the road in San Pedro Sula on a Fidel Escobar goal. They followed up that result by battling visiting Mexico to a scoreless draw. Dependable goalkeeper Jaime Penedo made key saves when called upon for Panama, which has recorded five shutouts in its past six qualifiers.
Trinidad & Tobago
2010 Record/Position: 1-1-0 (2GF, 2GA) / 5th place
2018 Record/Position: 0-0-2 (1GF, 6GA) / 5th place
Participating in its first Hexagonal since 2010, Trinidad & Tobago is already behind the eight ball with two losses -- Costa Rica (2-0, home) and Honduras (3-1, away) -- and only one goal scored (defender Carlyle Mitchell). The Soca Warriors’ start eight years was more hopeful, drawing its opening two matches against El Salvador (2-2, away) and Honduras (1-1, home) en route to a last-place finish.
2014 Record/Position: 1-0-1 (2GF, 2GA) / 2nd place
2018 Record/Position: 0-0-2 (1GF, 6GA) / 6th place
After losses to Mexico (2-1, home) and Costa Rica (4-0, away), the U.S. is already four points off the pace it established at the same stage for Brazil 2014. Back then, Clint Dempsey helped the Americans get off to a solid start by scoring one goal in each of their first two outings -- a 2-1 away loss against Honduras and a 1-0 home win against Costa Rica. Without the ailing striker's offensive talents this time around, the Americans have found the back of the net only once through Bobby Wood.