Well, what if US Soccer hadn't put inspiring messages on the wall of the tunnel before the game? Maybe that's what Mexico is missing, ever think of that? As nobody predicted, the Mexico-Panama game one month from today will decide the course of the Hex. We're to the point now where adjusted standings tend to be more autopsical than predictive, especially when the cause of death is so clearly "Failing to win at home." Still, let's look at them anyway.
The Kyle Dane Standings - should I recap how these work? Okay. Kyle Dane used to do a chart where you start with the assumption that each team is going for a win at home and a tie on the road. Accomplishing this gets you zero points. Losing on the road is -1 point. Tying at home is -2 points. Losing at home is -3 points. Winning on the road is +2 points. Doing anything but winning at home is a hideous idea, and losing at home is the dumbest thing you can possibly do.
Here are the current Dane standings:
US: 0 points Costa Rica: -1 point Honduras: -4 points Panama: -8 points Mexico: -8 points Jamaica: -12 points
Win at home, win at home, win at home. The United States (edit - and Costa Rica, duh) clinched because they are the only teams that have not done anything at home - wherever that home is - except win. This is what Mexico used to do, in case that sounds familiar.
I also invented the Cupcake Standings, which probably didn't bear close scrutiny this time around as well as I'd hoped. The theory is, the last place team in the group should be a source of free points...to the point where if everyone is getting them, what matters is if your team doesn't. Jamaica isn't quite as soft a cupcake as others in previous groups, which I imagine is comfort measurable in single digits Kelvin. Anyway, we remove the home field bonus when travelling to Casa de Cupcake. Beating the cupcake, no matter where, is worth no points. Tying the cupcake is a -2, and of course losing to the cupcake is a big, fat -3.
Costa Rica: -1 US: -2 Honduras: -4 Panama: -10 Mexico: -10
For this cycle, the Cupcake Standings are really only tracking who's going to win the group, since it will come down to how the US and Costa Rica do against Jamaica. If you care about who wins the Hex, we've learned something.
The team that has really benefited from Chepo's incompetence is Honduras. They have tied at home, twice, which is usually an express elevator to trouble. Only a road win could have saved their campaign, which Mexico was courteous enough to provide. I suppose this isn't officially official, but realistically there's no way Honduras hasn't clinched at least a playoff trip to Middle Earth - since Mexico and Panama play each other, they both won't get six points. Meanwhile, Honduras have nothing to play for Costa Rica at home, then nothing to play for and not very good Jamaica in Kingston.
So this is one of the least suspenseful qualification rounds in CONCACAF history, at least since the 50's and 60's, when the region truly was Mexico and debris. The automatic places are in effect spoken for. We're just down to two below-average teams fighting for a playoff. It's only the identity of one of the teams that makes the playoff chase worthy of the Pearl Harbor font in the headlines. A time traveller from five months ago would be amazed that Mexico-Panama has gone from the least suspenseful fixture on the calendar to the crucial game of the Hex, but here we are.
Which means that from the Mexico point of view...the US game wasn't important, except psychologically. The real damage had been done against Honduras. Yes, Mexico bungled its mission in Ohio, then watched Honduras hand Panama an extra point - but that two point swing doesn't cause as much damage as the Azteca loss. And those two points are made up and then some if Mexico finally wins a home game in a month.
If Panama gets a point (or more) on October 11, then Mexico is probably dead. That tends to happen to teams that don't win home games. Worse still, from Mexico's point of view, on the final day of the Hexagonal, they will need Costa Rica and the United States, who will be in precisely the same position of being able to rest and try out new players, to choose opposite approaches. Ideally, the United States would call in its strongest possible team, while Costa Rica would rest its first choice players and try to expand its player pool. Panama will probably only need either Costa Rica to care, or the United States not to care - Mexico will have to hope for both.
The other thing our time traveller from March would be amazed about is, well, everything about the US national team - Klinsmann reeling off a string of great results (barring San Jose, of course), and Landon Donovan back in the fold like all is forgiven - which I imagine all is. Winning, like sunshine, is a marvelous disinfectant. I haven't seen any retractions yet from the Sporting News, though.