As the MLS season approaches, MLSsoccer.com marks each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for March 2.
16 – Points required in the Hex to grab a World Cup berth
It’s pretty simple math for CONCACAF’s would-be World Cup hopefuls competing for a spot next summer in Brazil:
If you don’t collect at least 16 points in the Hexagonal, you’ll be watching from home.
Sixteen has been the bottom-basement minimum points total over the past two qualifying cycles to book a berth outright in the Big Show. And it hasn’t been pretty. It never is.
Sixteen points were barely enough for Honduras four years ago, as it took Jonathan Bornstein’s extra-time equalizer to deny all three points to Costa Rica, putting los Catrachos through and sending the Ticos (who also settled for 16) into a two-game playoff with Uruguay (which they lost).
Sixteen points put Costa Rica through in 2005, as well. (Miraculously, Trinidad and Tobago went to Germany, too, despite just 13 points and surviving a two-game playoff with Bahrain.)
This year, all bets are off. The competition is stiffer, and any of the six teams in the Hex could get one of the three automatic World Cup berths. The pandemonium of Matchday 1 was proof of that. You want a date at the dance? Win all your home games and get at least one result on the road, and you’re good to go. At least you should be. There are plenty of scenarios where not even 16 points will be enough this time around – the fact that only one team collected all three points through the first round of games should make everyone nervous.
Where this really gets fun is how it affects the 2013 MLS season. With so much at stake and every point being precious, the league’s CONCACAF stars will be needed like never before. Exhaustion and travel fatigue won’t be excuses.
Will anyone take Graham Zusi, Boniek García, Álvaro Saborío or Donovan Ricketts seriously when they look at their congested calendars and claim they’re “taking it one game at a time?" Fat chance.
The trickle-down effect will be fascinating as well. With Blas Pérez off with Panama so often, FC Dallas went and got two twin towers up front in Eric Hassli and Kenny Cooper to fill the void. Real Salt plucked Robbie Finley and Joao Plata in the hopes goalscoring king Saborío won’t be missed too badly.
San Jose will have to solve the problem of how their backline will hold when "Big Vic" Bernárdez is off with powerful Honduras (and judging from last year's playoff exit, the answer is "not great"). And whether he’s returning the US national team or not, the LA Galaxy are learning what life is like without Landon Donovan.
Sixteen is the magic number. But the price for every point may be immeasurable.