Friday, September 6, 2013

Usual suspects in CONCACAF close to Brazil

Mexico desperate, Ticos furious, Jamaicans edgy

The only suspense out of North and Central America is who exactly will finish first post-qualifiers.

The U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica and/or Honduras have been a lock to make it out of this region for the past decade and change, with the exceptions of Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica. While the competition is subpar usually until the last few rounds of qualifying, CONCACAF has produced some memorable matches---and these last few matches should as well.

In Costa Rica, the intimidating atmosphere in the small, yet loud Saprissa stadium won't be a factor as the Ticos' shiny new Estadio Nacional will play host to the U.S. The Ticos also never lost to the gringos on their land.  

The American defense will have headaches with an attack that consists of Bryan Ruiz, Alvaro Saborio, Joel Campbell and Christian Bolanos. On the other side, Landon Donovan returns from his international sabbatical to help Clint Dempsey raid the Tico goal. Whether or not the red-hot Jozy Alitdore will be on hand to help is the question as he's been nursing a hammy. But he was cleared by doctors to continue working out.

It'll be fast-paced for much of the 90 minutes and only an error or two could decide this match as both sides will deploy their full artillery. A good chunk of U.S. players are in danger of missing the Mexico match next Tuesday as they're carrying yellow cards. And the ref for this match? He's from Mexico! Only in CONCACAF.

Oh, and there's the case of Snowmageddon--the 1-0 U.S. win in Denver earlier this year on a field blanketed by the white stuff  that left Costa Rican players, federation members and fans livid for unfair play, leading to a frosty reception in San Jose for the Americans. And thanks to some creative press coverage by our Costa Rican colleagues, many outlets in the U.S. have taken notice and have reported on the ins-and-outs of the match tonight. Good to see ahead of the main event in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday!

In Mexico, El Tri desperately need a win at home after three straight goalless draws on its soil. And with netminder Guillermo Ochoa and Carlos Vela refusing to suit up, it can't any worse for them. Three points are vital and needed.

The Azteca--a mammoth of a park that seats 100,000---hasn't been the fortress it once was, at least this year, after Jamaica, the U.S. and Costa Rica escaped with a point each. Sure, they all worked on the counter but Mexico wasn't effective in breaking it down and failed to capitalize when they did. Something's not working.

You can bet Honduras will do the same but they have some gifted individuals that can produce a quick scheme if Mexico pushes up too high looking for that goal. Wilson Palacios and Roger Espinoza, both of whom run rampant in England, will fortify Honduras to keep the ball, if possible.

Mexico's most famous, Manchester United's Javier Hernandez, may not even be in the starting 11 as his playing minutes are down to a minimum. Oribe Peralta is on a domestic tear but manager Jose de la Torre might want to use both up top, given the circumstances. Giovanni Dos Santos and Angel Reyna are in top form as is Andres Guardado.

In Panama, Jamaica are not used to being targeted for gamesmanship. While training in Panama City, thunderous fireworks were set off right outside of the stadium where the Reggae Boyz were in session. The continuous disruption by the home supporters looking for every advantage eventually resulted in the cancellation of practice and some concerned players quickly left for the hotel.

This is Panama's last shot; anything short of three points will effectively end their dream of making the World Cup for the first time. Jamaica, on the other hand, sit on two points and have little chance of being in Brazil next year.