February 5, 2013
The good, bad and ugly of the CONCACAF hexagonal schedule
By Michael Lewis
So, what is better, a favorable schedule at the start of World Cup qualifying, a smooth ride in the middle or a home cooking finish at home?
Some of the six finalists in the CONCACAF hexagonal have more home games at the beginning, while a few teams are bottom heavy, while others seem to have an advantage in the middle.
Teams that have home games early on are under pressure to win because if you can't win at home, you wind up behind the eight (soccer) ball in trying to reach the World Cup.
On the flip side, teams having many road matches could get out of the starting get slow when it comes to point accumulation, chasing the game, or at least the group, for the rest of the competition.
In the end, it will all come out in the wash, as each team has to play each other on a home-and-away basis.
As it turns out, each of the six hexagonal finalists find themselves with scheduling challenges.
Here is a quick look at what each team has to endure, whether it be at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the of the fixture list:
The Americans are stuck with the most difficult start. They kick off at Honduras on Wednesday, return home to host Costa Rica on March 22, but hit the road again to play at Mexico on March 26 and in Jamaica on June 7. The U.S. will play four of their final six games at home, including four out of five. That's where the Americans should make up for some lost points, if they are lost. The "honeymoon" part of the schedule begins with back-to-back home encounters against Central American sides Panama (June 11) and Honduras (July 18). After a Sept. 6 trip to Costa Rica, the U.S. hosts Mexico on Sept. 10 and Jamaica on Oct. 11 before finishing up at Panama on Oct. 15.
Originally, El Tri was quite fortunate, getting a perfect home-away configuration. However, then came the FIFA Confederations Cup and the Mexicans were forced to move one of their away matches from June 18 to June 4. Yet, most teams would love to have Mexico's schedule. Mexico begins with Jamaica at Azteca Stadium on Wednesday, visits on Honduras on March 22 before returning to the Mexico City to tussle with archrival United States four days later. But then comes El Tri's most difficult test -- three games in eight days. They visit the Caribbean, taking on Jamaica on June 4. They fly to Central America to battle Panama on June 7. And they return home to their stadium in North America to meet Costa Rica on June 11 (then it's on to Brazil for the Confederations Cup). If they can earn six points from those, they will be in excellent shape; nine, and they probably will be running away with the hexagonal. In case you're wondering, the Mexicans finish up at home vs. Panama on Oct. 11 and at Costa Rica on Oct. 15.
Nothing like a little pressure early in the game. Los Catrachos will be under the gun to win their opening two matches -- at home -- against the two giants of CONCACAF -- the U.S. (Wednesday) and Mexico (March 22). If the Hondurans can accrue some points from both those fixtures -- they will be in decent shape. If they don't get anything, the Hondurans could be in for a long, long hexagonal. Honduras' day of reckoning could come later on in the competition when the Central American side plays at Mexico (Sept. 6) and U.S. (Sept. 10). The Central Americans finish up at home vs. Costa Rica (Oct. 11) and at Jamaica (June 15).
If the U.S. has to play three of its first games on the road, there has to be a team that must begin the competition with three of four matches at home. The Panamanians welcome visiting Costa Rica on Wednesday, travel to The Office to face Jamaica on March 22, before returning home vs. Honduras on March 26 and Mexico on June 7. Then comes hell with four of five games away from the friendly confines of Estadio Rommel in Panama City. Los Canaleros will become road warriors, performing at the U.S. (June 11) and Costa Rica (June 18) and before hosting Jamaica (Sept. 6). Then they hit the road again for games at Honduras (Sept. 10) and Mexico (Oct. 11). Panama completes its hexagonal run at home vs. the U.S. on Oct. 15.
Until the Confederations Cup forced that schedule change, the Reggae Boyz had a perfect away, home, away home, etc. fixture list. They will face their greatest challenge within a four-day span at the beginning of June at The Office. The Jamaicans host Mexico on June 4 and then the U.S. three days later. The only Caribbean side in the competition opens at Mexico on Wednesday before hosting Panama on March 22 before visiting Costa Rica four days later. For their final two matches, the Reggae Boyz travel to the U.S. on Oct. 11 and will welcome Honduras four days later.
For the first time, the Ticos will play World Cup qualifiers at Estadio Nacional in San Jose. Gone will be the intimidating presence of Saprissa Stadium, which is expected to make their road to Brazil more difficult. As it turns out, Costa Rica, which enjoyed the luxury of playing the entire Copa Centroamericana at home, will start their qualifying on the road. In fact, their schedule is almost a bookend as they will play two of their final three matches away. The Central American side play at Panama on Wednesday and at the U.S. on March 22. At the tail end of the season, Costa Rica visits Jamaica (Sept. 10) and Honduras (Sept. 11) before returning home to host Mexico on Oct. 15. Inbetween, Costa Rica will play four out of five at Estadio Nacional, where their World Cup fate will be ultimately decided. Those games include Jamaica (March 26), Honduras (June 7), Panama (June 18) and the U.S. (Sept. 6). The lone away encounter during that stretch is at Mexico (June 11).