U.S. World Cup qualifying scenarios: How the USMNT can punch its ticket

Tim Howard celebrates the U.S.’s 4-0 win over Panama. (Getty)
Tim Howard celebrates the U.S.’s 4-0 win over Panama. (Getty)

The United States men’s national team’s 4-0 victory over Panama on Friday night erased much of the tension and angst surrounding its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. It propelled the Americans into third place in the CONCACAF standings with one match to play.

But it did not lock up a World Cup berth. Not quite.

The U.S. will head to Trinidad on Tuesday knowing it can secure that berth with a second-straight win. After Costa Rica’s stoppage-time winner against Honduras on Saturday, the Americans are all but in with a draw on Tuesday as well.

Three simultaneous games on Tuesday threatened to provide convoluted scenarios, but after results Friday and Saturday, the picture for the U.S. is relatively simple.

Below is the relevant portion of the Hex standings after Honduras’ draw in Costa Rica on Saturday. Both Mexico and Costa Rica have officially qualified, with the U.S. in the driver’s seat for the final automatic qualification spot. The fourth-place finisher can qualify via a playoff against either Australia or Syria in November.


3. United States — 12 | +5
4. Panama — 10 | -2
5. Honduras — 10 | -7

The U.S.’s two-point advantage is effectively a three-point gap because of goal differential. To win a tiebreaker in the case of a U.S. draw, Panama would have to win by eight goals. Honduras would have to win by 12.

And here are Tuesday’s matchups, which kick off simultaneously at 8 p.m. ET. (The U.S. match is on BeIN Sports and the go90 app.)

Trinidad and Tobago v United States
Panama v Costa Rica
Honduras v Mexico

So, if we rule out that eight-goal Panama win, and that 12-goal Honduras win … the U.S. will appear at next summer’s tournament if it can get a point in Trinidad. The only scenarios worth considering are ones in which the Americans lose.

So, if the U.S. loses, it would finish third and qualify directly with …

  • A Panama draw or loss; AND

  • A Honduras draw or loss

If the U.S. loses, it would finish fourth and head to the intercontinental playoff with one of those above results, but not both.

If the U.S. loses, it would finish fifth and be eliminated if both Panama and Honduras win.

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That’s all. It’s that simple. A lot would have to go wrong for the U.S. to miss out on Russia 2018.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.