Christian Pulisic dribbles while Bruce Arena looks on

With four matches to go in the Hexagonal stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the US men's national team is in decent shape.

Decent, not great. Great, with two matches to go, is going to require a pair of good results next month.

Sitting in third place on eight points, six behind leaders Mexico and three behind Costa Rica, the Yanks need good showings in their early September matches to reduce the danger of having to face a two-leg elimination series as the fourth-place side – or worse, missing the finals for the first time since 1986.

Both matches – against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 and at Honduras on Sept. 5 – are important, but the first of the two carries the most weight.

There's the place on the table to consider, obviously. A victory against the Ticos moves the US into a second-place tie – and with first place pretty much out of reach after an 0-2-0 start, that's a big deal. A three-point take at home is doubly critical in that the US haven't fared better than a draw on the road yet in Hexagonal qualifying.

Yeah, they beat Honduras 6-0 at Avaya Stadium in March, which means somewhere between nada and squat going into the Sept. 5 matchup. Central American teams are always – always – tougher at home, and the US don't want to go into the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula needing a win to salvage this slate of games.

There's also a load of psychological value riding on the Costa Rica match. A 4-0 mauling at the hands of the Ticos last November spelled the end of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, opening the way for Bruce Arena to retake the Yanks' helm. His squad need to win, and win convincingly, answering one punch with another.

Could the US take two points out of this round and be okay? Depends on whether your definition of "okay" is "Hey, now we get two more matches to play our way in!"

Three points are the bare minimum; four would be solid. Six won't get them past Mexico when all is said and done, but it would pretty much lock up a trip to Russia with a couple of matches to spare.

(Notice that I didn't say the US couldn't beat Honduras.They have the talent to do it, especially if Christian Pulisic is in the ridiculous form he's shown early in the Bundesliga season. I'm just saying that if you go into Central America banking on three points, you obviously haven't been paying attention.)

Bottom line: No matter what happens, the US will still be breathing after this round. How easily depends on what they do on the first night of September.