Action from the World Cup qualifier between visiting Panama (white jersey) and Trinidad & Tobago on March 24, 2017, in Port of Spain. (Photo: CA-Images)
MIAMI – The race for berths at Russia 2018 is tighter than ever after Trinidad & Tobago and the United States each won their first game in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying last Friday, while the three Central American contenders all lost.
The six teams are separated by only four points as Mexico tops the table with seven points and three teams – Honduras, T&T and the USA – share fourth place on three points.
Competition continues on Tuesday with matchday four.
Can Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama bounce back with victories?
CONCACAF.com takes a look at one storyline for each of the six teams:
After going unbeaten in its first eight games to open 2018 WCQ play (7W-1D-0L), Costa Rica dropped a 2-0 decision at Mexico on Friday. Not only did the Ticos lose for the first time, they were shutout for the first time as well. What will be the response against host Honduras at the cozy Estadio Francisco Morazan?
Honduras lost at the United States in an eighth consecutive competitive match on Friday, 6-0. The scoreline would make any side ask questions of itself. Answers must be found if the Catrachos, who have been shutout in three of their last four WCQs, are going to avoid finishing matchday four in last place. Is Tuesday the day that forward Alberth Elis scores his first WCQ goal since March 25, 2016, in a 2-2 draw at El Salvador?
After a 2-0 win over visiting Costa Rica, Mexico has climbed to first place in the Hexagonal and is the only CONCACAF side to remain unbeaten in 2018 WCQ play overall (7-2-0). From a team perspective, can a potentially tricky trip to Trinidad & Tobago be successfully navigated in order to avoid a blemish? Plus, is Tuesday the day that forward Javier Hernandez separates from Jared Borgetti and claims the all-time Mexico scoring record for himself?
Panama has only one win in its last four WCQs (1-1-2) and is coming off a 1-0 loss at Trinidad & Tobago. An offense that has generated only one goal in its last 248 minutes of WCQ play must pick up the pace and help a defense that has conceded only once in its last three outings. The Panamanians have never beaten the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier (0-1-5). Will the stars align for a historic result?
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
In his first competitive match as head coach, Dennis Lawrence guided Trinidad & Tobago (1-0-2) to a 1-0 win over visiting Panama last Friday. The triumph was the Soca Warriors’ first in the Hexagonal, ending an overall three-match losing skid in WCQ play. T&T welcomes Mexico to Hasely Crawford Stadium on Tuesday in a bid for two straight victories. T&T hasn’t lost to Mexico at home in their last two WCQ meetings. Is three in a row possible? Remember, these two sides have played to high-scoring draws in their last two encounters: 4-4 in 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and 3-3 in a 2015 friendly.
U.S. memories of kicking off a CONCACAF Hexagonal with two consecutive losses for the first-ever time were banished thanks to Friday’s 6-0 win over visiting Honduras. Head coach Bruce Arena returned to the competitive bench with a win, and forward Clint Dempsey – with a hat-trick – showed he is back to high-level form after last year’s irregular heartbeat concerns. Can the pair maintain the pace of their initial success against a Panamanian side that is having trouble finding the back of the net? Prior to shutting out Honduras, the Americans conceded six goals in their previous two WCQs.