⚽ Quickly taken: Concacaf WCQ thoughts ahead of the 'second half'
Whoa! We're halfway there!
We passed the halfway point of the Octagonal last night, with the pandemic-compressed schedule meaning games come quickly.
After Tuesday’s games, there will be only two more windows and six more games for teams to play as they look to book one of three tickets from the region to the World Cup or simply keep hope alive by landing in fourth place and earning a spot in the playoff against a team from another confederation.
I wanted to send along a trio of thoughts before Monday’s premium edition, which will feature thoughts on Tata Martino’s job security (or lack thereof) and the world-famous Conca-catch-up. Get subscribed for $5/month or $50/year to make sure that one hits your inbox:
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🇵🇦 Move over Panama power. It’s about Panama persistence
While most eyes in the region were elsewhere, it was a wild finish in San Pedro Sula. Honduras went into the locker room up 1-0 thanks to a goal from Alberth Elis and got another from Bryan Moya just before the hour mark.
All that could keep Honduras from its first win in the Octagonal was a spactacular defensive collapse. And whoooooooa boy were they ready to serve that up.
Panama got a goal back in the 77th minute with Cecilio Waterman taking advantage of a lack of concentration as Maynor Figuera told goalkeeper Luis “Buba” Lopez to come for a ball that the goalkeeper thought the center back would clear. Honduras then tried on offside trap play on the second goal, with Omar Browne happy to tee up Cesar Yanis for an unmarked scoring chance he converted. And Eric Davis turned one point into three with this free kick, atoning for his earlier defensive error on the Elis goal with a goal of his own.
“Today hurts more than any other game because it was theirs. The guys had it,” Honduras manager Hernan “Bolillo” Gomez said after the match, his debut. “It hurts more than Jamaica where it’s 0-0 and Jamaica ends up winning 2-0 but in this case we were winning 2-0.
“It’s really making the week more complicated because in 15 minutes all the work you’ve done is gone because of errors. Sometimes you can’t even believe it.”
Honduras also was leading at the half of an eventual 4-1 loss to the United States in September and continues to struggle closing out games.
Gomez said at his news conference piror to the match that the only starter he would reveal in Friday’s lineup was Figueroa, so critical did he see the 38-year-old leader. It’s not only on the veteran, but Honduras needs new ideas at the back.
Meanwhile, Panama stayed after it, knowing Honduras was still vulnerable. Thomas Christiansen got his substitutions right, bringing the creative Browne in at halftime and putting three more attackers in at minute 66 once the game was 2-0. The chase paid off, and the 2018 World Cup qualifiers are now in a good spot to have a chance to return.
It was a crazy turnaround, with Spanish statistician Mr. Chip giving the baseball-stat-esque detail that Panama is the first team in any region to go into a road World Cup qualification match down two goals after the 75th minute and come out with a win. Panama also is the fist team to turn a two-goal disadvantage into the win in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifcation.
Even crazier is the thought that, for a brief moment last night, it seemed Panama not only would lose to Honduras but that there would be a winner in El Salvador-Jamaica, which would pull that team level with Panama.
Alex Roldan’s 90th-minute header meant that wasn’t going to happen, and Panama now is sitting pretty in the playoff place, closer to first than to fifth.
🇺🇸 MMA rumbles through midfield fight to give U.S. big win, top spot
I wrote this week that Edson Alvarez is the key figure for Mexico, especially in the game against the U.S. with Nestor Araujo suspended and an inexperienced group of center backs needing protection from the lone defensive midfielder.
The U.S. agreed, respecting Alvarez but making sure he had plenty to do, and he struggled to keep up with pressure created when Luis Romo and Hector Herrera failed to keep Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie or Tyler Adams in front of them or weren’t able to get back to cause a disruption after losing the ball.
I was impressed with the pace the Americans started with last night. The pressing was constant, and I was skeptical it could continue past the first half-hour. But the midfield made sure the extra running attackers Ricardo Pepi and Brenden Aaronson put in were worth it, while Tim Weah decided to reward himself with an assist on the first goal and a key role in the second.
There are several reasons the U.S. topped Mexico, but the midfield dominance is one of the most important.
📉 Stragglers need to answer the bell Tuesday
After Costa Rica’s 1-0 loss to Canada on Friday night, one Costa Rican outlet noted that 50% of the Ticos goals in the Luis Fernando Suarez era came against Guadeloupe and Suriname.
Suarez isn’t exactly known as an attacking dynamo of a manager, but things are looking pretty dire. Costa Rica has now been kept scoreless in four of its seven qualification matches and scored multiple goals just once, in a 2-1 victory over El Salvador, its lone win thus far in the cycle.
Costa Rica should get Keylor Navas back. While Canada was impressive, it’s tough to imagine Navas making a goalkeeping error like the one Leonel Moreira did that opened the door for Jonathan David to score what would end up being the only goal of the match.
If Costa Rica doesn’t beat Honduras, it can kiss Qatar goodbye.
Jamaica will hit the road just twice more, so there is definitely a belief the Reggae Boyz will pick up some more points in the second half than they did in the first (currently Jamaica sits on six points and has just one win - which came on the road). The next two home contests won’t be easy, with the U.S. visiting Tuesday and Mexico in Kingston to kick off the January window.
El Salvador has the same record as Jamaica and missed an opportunity to jump the Reggae Boyz in the table and be in touching distance of the playoff places. The trip to Panama won’t be easy, but if they’re going to hold on to their slim hopes (they still have trips to the U.S. and Mexico on the schedule plus a home game against Canada), it has to be a result.
Tuesday is a huge day for teams 5-8 in the Octagonal, with at least one team and maybe more sure to feel that their World Cup dream ended in 2021 even as matches continue into March next year.
I totally missed this last night.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend as much as that security guy enjoyed reliving his gridiron days.