We've finally made it to the Hex. Three teams will automatically qualify for the World Cup out of the CONCACAF pool, with another slated for a playoff once the Hexagonal tournament concludes. Which teams look the most impressive heading into the opening round of play? Let's break it down.
Panama are a solid team, but nothing about them really stands out. The Panamanians were manhandled in the Copa America Centenario, albeit at the mighty hands of Argentina and Chile. They did what they needed to do in the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying to get to where they are, but they never troubled the eventual group winners, Costa Rica. Beating Haiti and Jamaica is good by Panama's standards but doesn't mean much for the Hex's bigger fish.
The goals for Panama are likely to come from Luis Tejada and Blas Perez, with Gabriel Torres there to chip in. Tejada and Perez are both well into their 30s, and Torres is 28 years old. Panama do have some youth, but it's in one of the places you'd prefer more experience: the defense. Anything can happen when it comes to tournament play, but it's tough seeing Panama doing much damage in the Hex.
Trinidad and Tobago
Losing to Martinique, which isn't a member of FIFA, is not that way a team wants to boost confidence heading into an important tournament. Nevertheless, Trinidad and Tobago will have to dust themselves off and hit the ground running in the Hex. Their first test comes against Costa Rica, but at least they'll have the benefit of playing at home.
Kenwyne Jones remains the focal part of their attack, and the big center forward can still hold his own. Youngster Levi Garcia has also shown signs of promise for the Soca Warriors. They might be able to steal a point here or there from the big boys, but making it to Russia seems like a real long shot.
The Hondurans had to scratch and claw their way into the Hex, but there's something to be said about that kind of spirit. A lot of people pegged Canada to emerge out of Group A alongside Mexico, but it was Honduras that snuck through. They did so in dramatic fashion, too. In the last cycle of qualifying, they beat the Canadians 2-1 and held Mexico to a goalless draw.
In a pair of friendlies leading up to the Hex, they shellacked Belize to the tune of 7-1 on aggregate. They might not be the flashiest bunch, but Honduras seem to find a way. Whether that means they'll find themselves in the hunt for direct qualification to the World Cup might be a stretch, but they shouldn't be completely overlooked.
Los Ticos are like the middle child of the CONCACAF hierarchy, but ignoring them entirely would spell disaster. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is a stud and can play at a world-class level at any time. They ended the fourth round of World Cup qualifying on a hot streak, winning their final three matches. The caveat there, though, is that the group was pretty weak. Nevertheless, Costa Rica got the job done and deservedly won their group.
Where Los Ticos are lacking a bit of punching power is at the point of their attack. Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos remain relatively potent on the left and right wings, respectively, but their forwards haven't gotten the job done. Marcos Urena and Alvaro Saborio haven't delivered, and the options beyond them are negligible. Joel Campbell is a threat, but he's also a winger.
The United States enter the Hex on the heels of a droll draw in a friendly against New Zealand on Oct. 11. That could be chalked up to the stakes and the USMNT fielding a weakened lineup, but it's still not the ideal way to gear up for a critical tournament. The good news for the USMNT is that many of their key players have been performing well in the interim. Jozy Altidore remains essential for the Americans, and he's been on fire in MLS.
Depth is a concern for the Americans, though. Bobby Wood will likely play alongside Altidore or at the very least spell him throughout qualifying. Beyond that pair, there's not a whole lot that strikes fear from the forward position. Playmakers like Sacha Kljestan, Michael Bradley and perhaps youngster Christian Pulisic in the midfield will be relied on to help shoulder the load.
This is arguably the most talented roster Mexico has ever had. El Tri are absolutely loaded, starting with their attack. Juan Carlos Osorio added to an already potent attacking lineup with the recalls of Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela. That duo will be added to a mix that includes Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Marco Fabian and a plethora of others.
In terms of form, El Tri enter the Hex with just one loss in 2016. The issue there, however, is that that one loss was a 7-0 clobbering from Chile in the summer's Copa America Centenario quarterfinals. That embarrassment aside, El Tri have 12 wins, two draws and that loss in their last 15 matches. Was the Chile match just a hiccup? Friday's clash offers Mexico their first chance to prove as much in a meaningful match.