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LISTEN: What goes well with grilling and the great outdoors? A little Labor Day soccer talk, of course. With Russia in the balance for the US national team, Andrew and Matt get together on a holiday morning to talk Hex and all the MLS action from the weekend. Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
The United States are right where they didn't want to be at this stage of the Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF qualifying for next year's World Cup: Needing a win in steamy Central American conditions to salvage this most recent round of qualifiers.
The US are third in the six-team group with three matches to go, on eight points from seven outings – and while they lead fourth-place Honduras (also on eight points) comfortably on goal differential, a loss on Tuesday night in San Pedro Sula could see the Yanks drop all the way to fifth, depending on results elsewhere around the region.
Granted, the US destroyed Los Catrachos 6-0 at home in March, earlier in the Hex stage – but they're not counting on being able to do the same on foreign soil.
Coach Bruce Arena said as much in his news conference on Monday where he also acknowledged the challenge this match poses to the US' hopes of a top three finish and an automatic qualification to Russia 2018. The fourth-place team will have a shot to make it, but must advance out of a two-leg qualifier in November against a team from Asia.
A draw would see the Yanks drop to fourth if Panama beat last-place Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.
“It’s so clear and it’s all right there for us,” Bradley said. “It’s three games, a little three-team tournament to see who goes to the World Cup directly, who is going to play in the playoff and who is going to be out.
“In every World Cup cycle, you play games where everything is on the line and you’ve got to get a result. That’s what the next three games are.”
This next one will present a heavy weather challenge, even for MLS players whose season runs through the summer and includes away dates in the steamy South. Tuesday's forecast calls for a heat index in the low 100s, along with a chance for a thunderstorm.
Then there are the pitch conditions, which Arena expects to be less than ideal for Tuesday's match, and the challenge looks even steeper for Bradley and his teammates.
“It’s going to be a grind in every sense of the word,” Bradley said. “These are the days that are hard to explain to people who aren’t here.”