As we enter into the third international break of the current soccer season, you might notice something is different. There's a bit more excitement about the United States' matches this coming weekend. All of it revolves around a simple two-word phrase: The Hex.
It sounds weird without context. This post will hopefully provide all the context you need to understand why these upcoming matches are significant and to join in the excitement.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying
In previous posts within this series, we discussed why international breaks exist and how World Cup qualifying generally works. Assuming that you are good on those things, you know, then, that CONCACAF -- the North American, Central American and Caribbean zone in world soccer -- has multiple stages of qualifying.
In the final stage, the remaining six teams play ten matches -- one at home against the other five countries and one away at the other five countries. The top three at the end of those ten matches automatically advance to the World Cup. The fourth place team goes into a playoff for one of the final World Cup spots.
Because this final stage consists of a six-team group, it is affectionately known as The Hex.
Winning the Hex
On one hand, it seems to be a system that lacks much meaning and/or drama. After all, three of the six teams will play in the World Cup, and possibly a fourth. When most teams are going to advance, it doesn't seem like the matches are going to mean much.
And yet, for soccer fans, they definitely do. On Friday night, the United States plays their first match in the Hex at home against Mexico. It will be played in Columbus, Ohio -- a place where we always seem to win 2-0. Or "dos a cero," as it has gone down in American soccer lore.
Usually, the Hex comes down to either Mexico or the United States taking the top two places in the group. The competition for third and fourth is strong. Costa Rica was great in the 2014 World Cup, advancing all the way to the quarterfinals, thanks to a favorable draw. Panama is always on the fringe of qualifying, even though they never have. Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago are hoping for the best.
While the US should qualify, they still have to play the matches. Finally, all these international breaks earlier in the year have led us here. The start of the Hex -- the final 6 in CONCACAF trying to make the 2018 World Cup.
We can't wait for Friday night.