1. Injuries limit Antigua and Barbuda's hopes of pulling a massive upset: Everything has to fall exactly into place for Tom Curtis' side to snatch a result against the United States on Friday night. Unfortunately for Curtis, his best players aren't healthy enough to feature in front of the sellout crowd of 10,000 expected at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. Reading midfielder Mikele Leigertwood did not link up with the squad after missing Saturday's game against Swansea with a leg injury. Talismanic striker Peter Byers trained sparingly on Thursday as he nursed a possible leg injury, according to a Tweet from ESPN's Jeff Carlisle.
If Byers is restricted in any way on Friday night, then Curtis would enter this affair with his two best players in some state of disrepair. That set of circumstances would force Antigua and Barbuda to rely on its cautious approach and surprisingly rigid shape even more than in previous matches. Those defensive tactics have worked for the most part against Guatemala and Jamaica, but they may not prove enough to grind out a draw against a United States side capable of creating the one moment of magic required to win the game.
2. Guatemala faces critical Group A match against Jamaica with a significant injury crisis: Guatemala boss Ever Hugo Almeida usually prefers a five-man rearguard, but he may have to adapt his plans on Friday night. He named a squad with just two natural central defenders (including one second-division player) after an injury crisis robbed him of several regular choices (including Carlos Gallardo, Luis Rodriguez and Elias Vasquez). It isn't the best way to enter a make-or-break home affair. With a trip to Kansas City ahead on Tuesday and three Group A teams tied on seven points heading into the weekend, the Guatemalans can't afford to slip up against the Jamaicans and place themselves in a must-win position at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
3. With its place in the Hexagonal secure, Mexico experiments...: José Manuel de la Torre will use this pair of matches against Guyana and El Salvador to assess his squad options for the Hexagonal next year. The blend of youth (including uncapped Club Léon midfielder Carlos Peña and a host of Olympic heroes) and experience (Andrés Guardado, Javier Hernández, Héctor Moreno and Francisco Rodríguez are included) should give de la Torre the right mix to adequately evaluate his fringe players heading into next year. International coaches rarely enjoy this sort of freedom to try untested players in competitive matches. De la Torre must use it wisely to further the development of his squad.
4. ...and recalls Sinha in a forward-looking group?: De la Torre sprung a fairly significant surprise by including the 36-year-old playmaker in his squad. Sinha probably merits a spot given his recent form with Toluca, but it's hard to see where he exactly fits into the mix with Giovani dos Santos (excluded as he works back to full fitness at Mallorca) and Marco Fabián (omitted for similar reasons with CD Guadalajara) already capable of handling the creative duties. Their absences create a short-term need, but it seems odd to include him in such a youthful group. Perhaps de la Torre will provide a glimpse into his thought process by how he uses the naturalized Brazilian over the next couple of days.
5. Costa Rica travels to the brink in El Salvador: The home side can clinch second spot in Group B and a berth in the Hexagonal with a victory in San Salvador on Friday night. Jorge Luis Pinto's side finds itself in this mess after a 2-2 draw with El Salvador to start the semifinal round. It must now atone for that misstep by securing at least a point under difficult circumstances. The rewards are there for all to see: a point here would all but send the Costa Ricans through given Tuesday's straightforward home date against Guyana.
BONUS. Keep a close watch on Group C: The most important game of the fifth matchday occurs in Panama City on Friday night. Group C leader Panama hosts Honduras with the opportunity to secure a berth in the Hexagonal with a victory. Honduras can survive a defeat, but it cannot afford to suffer a heavy setback with Canada set to host Cuba at BMO Field. Stephen Hart's side must do something it usually struggles to do – post several goals in one match – to reverse its current deficit on goal differential to the Hondurans and strengthen its hand heading into the presumably decisive affair in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday afternoon.
Follow KYLE MCCARTHY on Twitter or shoot him an email
- Antigua and Barbuda