The U.S.’s sunny, balmy climate and cheap flights had something to do with America’s win over France at this summer’s World Cup, but with the U.S. play-off history, don’t expect them to win next week’s American nationals vs. Venezuelans ball.
America had already won against the two countries this year. On Nov. 15, Panama won 4-3 over Honduras to set up a final two-game playoff with Antigua and Barbuda for the final spot in Brazil. Following the 2018 elections, Antigua and Barbuda replaced Panama as a semi-finalist.
Panama, which started this year in a fairly poor level of play with an 8-7-3 record that included three draws, four losses and a 4-0 drubbing by Costa Rica, won five games in the first seven qualifying rounds. Haiti (which qualified in November 2012 and in November 2015) had pulled off the playoff against the U.S. in 2011 when it won 2-1 in Antigua and Barbuda.
The U.S. had won nine out of the last 10 World Cup qualifiers against Mexico. Antigua and Barbuda had a 1-0-2 record against the U.S.
“They had a good regular season,” Antonio Gutierrez, Guatemala’s coach in the first round, told the Guatemala Herald in October. “It’s not easy to play against Guatemala, and they always come with really good form.”
The U.S. beat Mexico 6-0 in the regular season, but couldn’t repeat that feat on the road against El Tri, and then lost 2-1 in the second leg of the first round to Costa Rica on home soil.
This year was a completely different story as they steamrolled Honduras 7-0 in the opening round.
On the road, they beat Antigua and Barbuda 2-0, but only won one of the six home games.
Under second-year coach Bruce Arena, who had experience managing the U.S. at the World Cup, his teams consistently showed promise but got past the World Cup stage only once. This is his first run at the round of 16 as a head coach.
This is the nation’s fifth trip to the round of 16. Each time it has failed to win. It has been to the quarterfinals once and the round of 16 twice.
Perhaps a learning experience from 2014, when the US held the group-stage lead in the group-stage but was ousted in the group stage with a scoreless draw against Portugal and a 2-0 loss to Germany.
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