After months of sitting in last place in the final round of 2018 World Cup, the United States have finally seen the light, defeating Honduras 4-0 on Friday night.
With Friday’s win, the U.S. are now just one point off from the three World Cup qualifying positions offered within the “Hexagonal,” and will have a chance to further move up the table with a win against Panama on Tuesday.
Still, it’s important to acknowledge that the U.S. are still technically in last place of the Hexagonal stage, tied with Trinidad & Tobago and Honduras with just three points in three games.
Consequently, with the 2018 World Cup in the balance, Tuesday night’s match against Panama is a must-win for the United States going forward.
Panama, with four points in three games, currently holds the last automatic bid for the 2018 World Cup. With a win, the United States would firmly re-assert themselves in a qualifying spot. But with a loss or a draw, the U.S. would go right back to where they started; last place.
The U.S. have had an up-and-down start to new manager Bruce Arena’s second stint as head coach, posting two wins and a draw against largely inferior competition. During that span, the United States scored a somewhat misleading seven goals, drawing 0-0 against Serbia, and barely eking out a win against Jamaica 1-0.
So, what changed in the United States’ 6-0 win against Honduras?
The most obvious answer comes in the form of veteran striker Clint Dempsey, who made his triumphant return to the pitch on Friday night with a hat trick. The USMNT’s second all-time leading scorer was the undisputed man of the match, and brought the U.S. attack to a level it hadn’t seen since before his absence.
Clint Dempsey, simply put, holds the key to the United States’ 2018 World Cup bid. The 34-year-old-striker will no doubt start Tuesday night’s game against Panama, and should be looked upon heavily in the coming months as the U.S. try to dig their way back up to the qualifying spots.
Dempsey should be available for the remainder of the U.S.’ qualifying matches, but there’s no denying the star striker’s advanced age; at least in the world of sports.
If the U.S. are to ultimately make the 2018 World Cup, they have to find another player that can replicate Dempsey’s attacking prowess. But until, then, with the U.S. facing several must-win scenarios ahead, Dempsey should be the man to guide the Stars and Stripes to the World Cup.