CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying: The Hex Matchday One

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Joe Hojnacki

The Hex, the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, begins Friday as the six remaining North American and Caribbean nations square off for the right to go to Russia in 2018. Out of Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States, three will score automatic bids to the World Cup Finals at the end of the double round robin tournament. The fourth place finisher will take on an Asian nation in a two legged playoff for one last shot at qualification.

CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying: The Hex Matchday One

Three matches open the competition on Friday afternoon.

Honduras v. Panama- 3:35pm- beIN Sports

Honduras is trying to qualify for three consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history. They finished second to last in the summer of 2014, which was one spot lower than their finish in 2010. Their only other World Cup appearance was in Spain in 1982, where they finished 18th of 24 teams. They are led by FC Dallas defender, and their captain, Maynor Figueroa, Houston Dynamo midfielder Boniek Garcia, and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza.

They will take on Panama to open the Hex. Panama has never made it to the World Cup. They are riding high, however. They finished third after beating the United States in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2015. They have the better squad, on paper, than Honduras with a couple of San Jose Earthquakes, Alberto Quintero and Anibal Godoy, anchoring the midfield. They also have hot headed Blas Perez of Vancouver Whitecaps as a powerful force up front, even at his advanced age.

Road matches in CONCACAF are generally difficult to win. There are many hostile environments to travel to and Honduras may be the most hostile. Panama may have slightly more talent, but Honduras gets the three points thanks to home field advantage.

Trinidad and Tobago v. Costa Rica- 6pm- beIN Sports

Trinidad and Tobago have been to one World Cup in their history. That was 2006 in Germany, but their 2018 hopes are stronger than they’ve ever been. Their squad is filled with MLS and former Premier League level talent, as well as other players scattered throughout the world. Captain Kenwyne Jones spent eight years in England’s top flight between Sunderland and Stoke City. He was also the first big signing by MLS expansion outfit Atlanta United. Kenwyne is joined by Seattle Sounders wide player Joevin Jones, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Cordell Cato, and AZ Alkmaar’s Levi Garcia.

Costa Rica is one of the best CONCACAF has to offer, very much the best outside of the USA and Mexico. Their surprise run in the 2014 World Cup took them to within penalty kicks of reaching the semi-finals. Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas is their crown jewel in goal, but they also have a wealth of talent up front. They are led by two Portugal based players in Sporting CP forwards Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. Also making waves in Europe is midfielder Celso Borges of Deportivo La Coruna, who has 21 goals with the national team.

Costa Rica should get by in this one. They are head and shoulders above T&T, even considering the challenge of playing on a small island in the Caribbean Sea.

USA v. Mexico- 8:01pm- FS1

This is the match everyone has been waiting for. Our very own Daniel Sperry has the full preview, but it’s safe to say this match could very well be one to remember. The USA has won this fixture four cycles in a row by the famed dos a cero scoreline. All four of those matches were in Columbus, Ohio, where Friday night’s conflict will take place. The weather, as it tends to be, is often a factor in these matches. Although John Bava disagrees, the kickoff temperature of near freezing very well could have an impact on proceedings.

This may not be the strongest Mexico team out there, but it’s still a very good one. The massive 7-0 defeat to Chile in Copa America Centenario is their only loss since Juan Carlos Osorio took over as manager. The USA will need more than the ghosts of dos a ceros past to see them through this match. Their biggest weakness will be on the back line, where leader Geoff Cameron will be missing due to injury.

Considering the recent run of results in the Ohio capital, it’s hard to predict anything other than a 2-0 American victory. However, that streak has to come to an end. I think the USA wins, but Mexico pushes a goal across for the first time ever in Columbus. I say dos a uno a los Estados Unidos to get the American Hex started off the right way.