As I'm sure all of you know the Fire has this weekend off. But despite the lack of Chicago-related MLS action to look forward to, this weekend should be a great one for soccer fans in the Second City as CONCACAF kicks off its penultimate round of World Cup Qualifying.
The CONCACAF race is currently down to four teams: the U.S. (1st place, 16 points), Mexico (2nd place, 15 points), Honduras (3rd place, 13 points) and Costa Rica (4th place, 12 points). Only the top three teams automatically qualify for next year's World Cup and the 4th place team has the less than enviable fate of facing off South America's fifth place side (which could very well be Argentina...) in a two-game playoff for their World Cup lives. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that the top three spots are at an absolute premium. So, with that, let's take a closer look at this weekend's matches...
**Marquee Matchup - U.S. at Honduras**
With both teams coming into the match in the top three, one might think that neither side will be too desperate for points. However, that notion could not be further from the truth. The Americans will be looking to clinch their qualification early with a win in San Pedro Sula while the Hondurans will be playing for national pride in their politically tense homeland.
Apart from the fact that both teams are in dire need of points, this game figures to be the best in terms of quality as well. The U.S. boasts big time players Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore while the Hondurans can more than match the Americans talent-wise as their lineup will likely feature Wilson Palacios, David Suazo and Maynor Figueroa. American midfielder Clint Dempsey was ruled out of the match earlier in the week after he injured his shoulder while playing for Fulham FC of the
English Premier League this past weekend.
My early prediction for this one? 2-1 to Honduras. A win would put them one step closer to qualifying for their first World Cup since 1982 and the intensity that will come with that will be a little too much for the Americans.
**Almost there at the Azteca - El Salvador at Mexico**
Cuauhtemoc Blanco and 'El Tri' face off against fifth place El Salvador on Saturday night in a match that - by all accounts - Mexico should win. El Salvador has put up a valiant effort in qualifying (they even beat Mexico 2-1 back on June 6th) but I'm guessing the attacking power of Giovani Dos Santos and 'Temo will be too much for them. Early guess? Mexico wins 2-0 and takes over first place in the group.
**Fighting for their life - Trinidad & Tobago at Costa Rica**
After getting out to a hot start in qualifying, Costa Rica has hit a very rough patch. They have lost three games in a row and see themselves on the outside looking in for the first time since the final round of qualifying began. 'Los Ticos' even changed coaches after their last match (which by the way is a move that Fire/Costa Rican defender Gonzalo Segares did not agree with...) and they need a win on Saturday to extend their hopes of finishing in the top three of the group. Lucky for them, they're facing off against last place Trinidad and Tobago at home - a perfect recipe for a win. My prediction is that Costa Rica gets back on track winning 2-1 at Estadio Saprissa.
I'll likely have more coverage of these three matches later on in the week, so stay tuned for that. Otherwise, I'm interested in what teams you think will walk away from this weekend winners. Share any predictions you may have below...