It’s looking more and more likely that the US national team could be forced into an intercontinental playoff for a World Cup bid.
Last Friday’s home loss to Costa Rica and Tuesday’s draw at Honduras left the US in fourth-place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal with just two World Cup qualifiers remaining. CONCACAF’s top three teams will automatically earn spots at the World Cup next summer, but the fourth-place finisher will have to take on the fifth-place team from Asia in a home-and-home playoff in November for one berth in Russia.
The US would likely clinch a top-three finish and a secure a place in the World Cup with wins in their final two qualifiers next month against Panama and at Trinidad & Tobago. Anything less than that, however, and there’s a real chance they could finish fourth or worse.
CONCACAF’s fourth-place team will take on Australia or Syria in the intercontinental playoff. Both countries finished third in their respective AFC World Cup qualifying groups, narrowly missing out on the automatic World Cup berths that come with a top-two finish.
Australia and Syria will play a two-legged series in October to determine Asia’s representative in the intercontinental playoff. Syria will “host” the first leg in Malaysia on Oct. 5 (the team hasn’t played in Syria in years due to the ongoing war in the country) before the series moves down under for the second leg on Oct. 10.
The winner will move to the intercontinental playoff against the CONCACAF representative. The series will be played between Nov. 6 and Nov. 14, with the CONCACAF team set to host the first leg before the AFC qualifier hosts the return match.
The series winner will be determined by aggregate goals. If the teams are tied following the second leg, the team with more away goals will move onto the World Cup. If both countries are tied on away goals, the series will be decided in extra time and, if necessary, penalties. Away goals will count in extra time.
A CONCACAF team has participated in an intercontinental World Cup qualifying playoff four times. Mexico easily handled New Zealand to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica narrowly lost to Uruguay to miss out on the 2010 tournament, Trinidad & Tobago snuck past Bahrain to qualify for Germany 2006, and Canada lost to Australia in penalties to miss out on the 1994 competition.