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The three points they claimed with the victory were critically important after a horrendous start to the region's final round of eliminations, but the magnitude of the triumph and the performance that generated so lopsided a result will push the USA men's national team's confidence to full blush while sending a sharp message to the other teams in the competition. The United States do have the stronger roster and the home-field advantage, which should equal a win for the home team in San Jose this Friday.

Prediction: 1-0 USA. The USA scrap their way to a much needed result off of a Clint Dempsey late goal. Out are DeAndre Yedlin (thigh), Eric Lichaj (pelvis), Fabian Johnson (thigh) and Bobby Wood (back). Midfielder Jermaine Jones is forced to sit as well, thanks to a suspension. Clint Dempsey has also been recalled to the USMNT after missing everything post-Copa America previous year with a heart issue (despite Arena saying in January that Dempsey would not be called in for these two qualifiers).

Dempsey had been out of the national team picture for months after a heart issue discovered last August threatened his playing career. He was given the green light at the beginning of this season, but whether his match fitness is enough for the global level remains to be seen. Dempsey and Jozy Altidore headed the attack.

Apologists will point out that the United States brings less than a fully operational Death Star into these matches, but you could have said the same thing about the 2014 versions of home for Honduras and away to Panama. They turned their fine performance into points the next time around, downing the Trinidad and Tobago by a score of 3-1.

The qualifying road is never seamless: inevitable defeat somewhere in a Central American cauldron, nearly certain setback in the choking air of Mexico City, rutty fields, dodgy officiating.

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Mexico lead the table with seven points, one ahead of Costa Rica and three more than Panama. Football is seldom excluded from political events and, increasingly, Honduran players have left the country to play overseas with some of the most important players playing in Major League Soccer.

That process, which Klinsmann made more complicated by the match, wasn't all that hard for Arena either - he scouted Honduras, he predicted how they would line up for the contest, and he put out his best-attacking team and told them to be aggressive from the opening whistle. The most important will be the Houston Dynamo duo Alberth Ellis and Romell Quioto, who have been playing well in the still young MLS season. What player would prove to have the necessary scoring touch that could put the United States on the scoreboard, should a chance come their way? No team has ever reached a World Cup after failing to record a point in their first three Hex matches. Darlington Nagbe should be on the left while focal point Christian Pulisic will play on the right. Pulisic scored just seconds into the half, then set up Dempsey with a ideal through-ball for their fifth goal.

Pinto will probably deploy a conservative 4-4-2 and try to frustrate the Americans with two banks of four in his own defensive end. In central midfield, I'd strongly prefer to see Acosta start regardless of his experience; he's simply the best available player for the job right now. Still, the US has never lost in Panama and is 11-1-4 all-time against the Canaleros. Both include Fox Sports One, which carries the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier match.

In Arena's first contest in his return, the US managed a scoreless draw with Serbia in San Diego, in a friendly match back in January. Thankfully, the Hex has a forgiving format and the U.S. has always had a crisis moment or two on the way to qualification. Their only defeat came in 2001.


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