Following an uninspiring draw with Panama and a deeply uninspiring win over Martinique, the United States is atop their 2017 Gold Cup group. Regardless of misgivings about performance, the USMNT controls their own destiny by the narrowest of margins. Here’s how things look at the moment:
The US is in first on goals scored, due to their win coming in a 3-2 game while Panama beat Nicaragua 2-1. It’s the final tiebreaker, so they’re ahead by the narrowest margin CONCACAF has. With that in mind, let’s get into what Saturday’s results will mean to their final spot in the group:
US beats Nicaragua
This one’s easy. If the US wins, they will most likely finish atop the group. Panama would have to beat Martinique either a) by a larger margin than the US defeats Nicaragua, or b) by the same margin as the US, but while scoring at least one more goal in the process (think USA 1:0 Nicaragua and Panama 2:1 Martinique). If the end result is an exact match of goals for as well as goal difference, there will be a drawing of lots to determine the group winner.
The 1-0 and 2-1 scenario above would require that, leaving two teams depending on the literal luck of the draw. That’s no minor issue, as the Group B runner-up will face the top team from Group A. Despite all the chaos caused by Florent Malouda’s appearance for French Guiana against Honduras, this still seems like it’ll be Costa Rica. With all due respect to the other teams in that group, the Ticos are the team to avoid.
A win would, at the very least, guarantee the US of a spot in the knockout stages. There’s no way they could finish lower than 2nd place on 7 points.
US ties Nicaragua
Hey, after two very underwhelming showings, don’t rule it out. The only way the US could win Group B with a draw in their finale would be if Panama and Martinique also tied. Otherwise, the winner of that game would finish in first. A draw would also make it impossible for the US to fall into 3rd place, where their point total and goal difference would be weighed against the other 3rd place finishers (two of the three 3rd place sides get quarterfinal berths).
A draw while Panama and Martinique also finish tied could see the US win the group, provided they maintain their goals scored edge over Los Canaleros. It would be completely without glamour or acclaim, but it’d still be the easiest possible path to the final.
US loses to Nicaragua
First of all, this would be one of the worst results in modern American soccer history. Even Jurgen Klinsmann could claim to not have a loss like this on his resume. However, if it were to happen, the US would still be alive (whether they’d deserve to be is a different story).
A US loss coupled with a draw in the other game would see Bruce Arena’s side fall into 3rd in the group. The USMNT would still probably go through, though: 4 points is probably enough, unless Nicaragua truly crushed the Americans and ruined their goal difference. If Panama were to defeat Martinique, the US could lose this game and still finish 2nd.
Were Martinique to win, however, the US and Panama would be level on points. The margin of defeat for both sides would determine who finishes in 2nd and who falls into 3rd. As is the case now, goals scored could end up being the difference.