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Captain America Christian Pulisic had a hat trick and the U.S. Men’s National Team vaporized Panama 5-1 in Orlando Sunday night. The 14th and final final game of this World Cup qualifying cycle is now at hand, Wednesday night in San Jose, Costa Rica.
It sets up like this: The U.S. can clinch a spot in Qatar 2022 with a victory, a tie or a loss by fewer than six goals.
Say it again: Unless the Americans lose 6-0 or 7-1 or 8-2 or 9-3, something like that, they’re off to Qatar.
And in the event the impossible happens and they do lose by six goals, then they’ve got a play-in game against the Oceania winner (probably New Zealand).
That the U.S. has not already booked their flight in November is bothersome to those who see the ghosts of Couva still flitting about, screeching.
During the last cycle, did not the U.S. beat Panama 4-0 in Orlando? Did that not “virtually assure” the Americans a bid before they kicked off against lowly Trinidad & Tobago on the very last day?
Did it not all come crashing down beneath a tidal wave amid a perfect storm?
All of these things are true.
On Oct. 10, 2017, the U.S. lost to Trinidad & Tobago for the first time since 2008, and for the third time ever. Honduras and Panama posted improbable victories over the top two teams in the group, Mexico and Costa Rica. And that was it.
The U.S. slipped to fifth place and its streak of seven consecutive World Cup berths over 24 years went up in a dumpster fire.
This time around, there’s no comparison. For one thing, the U.S. is already guaranteed fourth place. At bare minimum.
For another thing, if you’re a tightly wound fan of the national team and you believe in your heart that Gregg Berhalter’s team is going to lose 6-0 or 7-1 or 8-2 or 9-3, or something like that, on Wednesday night in Costa Rica, please hug somebody. Take some deep, cleansing breaths. Easy, now.
The Society for American Soccer History (SASH – what a cool acronym) chronicles national team history from 1885. It tells us that a six-goal loss is exceedingly rare, even when taking into account that there was a time when our country saw soccer as some kind of fifth column threat and tried to starve the game to death.
The last time the USMNT lost by a six-goal margin in a non-friendly was on Aug. 21, 1975, when Argentina (with Osvaldo Ardiles and Mario Kempes) pinned a 6-0 loss on the Americans at the Mexico City Tournament. If you need an analogy, think of The Big Red Machine playing the Argentine national baseball team in 1975.
The Americans have had more resounding losses in games that counted – 11-2 to Argentina at the 1928 Olympics, 7-1 to Italy in the first round of the 1934 World Cup, 9-0 to Italy in the 1948 Olympics, 6-0 to Mexico in a 1949 World Cup qualifier, 6-0 again to Mexico in a 1957 World Cup qualifier.
The Americans have been crushed to dust in games that didn’t count – notably 8-1 and 10-0 losses in friendlies against England in 1959 and 1964. It’s clear the Brits took to heart their 1-0 loss to the U.S. in the first round of the 1950 World Cup and lashed back for decades.
The point is, the U.S. doesn’t lose games by six goals in official competitions very often; it has happened seven times in 135 years, and the last time it happened was 47 years ago.
Put it this way: If the U.S. had an 85-93% chance to punch their ticket to Russia 2018 when they kicked off in Couva on the last day of the last cycle, their chance of punching a ticket to 2022 Qatar is something close to 99.9% as they prepare for kickoff in San Jose Wednesday night.
Really, nobody should have to explain this to anybody. Yet, there are so many fans who wanted Berhalter fired at different points over the past seven months, it becomes necessary.
Since Berhalter took over at the beginning of 2019, the U.S. has posted a 34-8-8 record. He gladly took in a “golden generation” and set about expanding the experience of his young charges. Last year, the Americans won the Gold Cup and the Nations League with, basically, two different player pools.
They are 3-0-1 in their past four meetings with archrival Mexico.
During this World Cup qualifying cycle, Berhalter has fielded two of the youngest teams in USMNT’s history. Sunday’s was not one of them – and the average age of the starters was 24.6.
Heading into Matchday 14, the Americans are 6-0-1 at home and 1-2-3 on the road with a plus-13 goal differential. Because of injuries, suspensions and COVID, they have yet to play Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, Weston McKennie, and Giovanni Reyna and Pulisic all together at the same time.
Their two road losses were 1-0 at Panama in October and 2-0 at Canada in January.
And if you think they’re going lose 6-0 or 7-1 or 8-2 or 9-3, or something like that, well, we’ll see what Captain America has to say about that Wednesday night.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: It's been 47 years since the U.S. lost a real soccer game by six goals