Have you heard of The Hex? Few American sports fans have.
It’s the name for the final round of World Cup qualifying for North American national soccer teams.
Today, the US men’s national team begins its quest to emerge as one of the top three teams in The Hex and secure a spot at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The other teams vying for those spots are Mexico, Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras.
As interest in soccer grows in the US, more and more fans are becoming aware of the long and arduous road a team must take on its way to the World Cup. Last year, the US earned a spot in The Hex by finishing first in a second-round group that included Jamaica, Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda. Though the US is a favorite to clinch a spot in Brazil, the journey there won’t be easy.
Competing in CONCACAF, the federation of North American soccer-playing nations, means traveling to hostile environments to play games in extremely hot and humid weather. Today, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and the other US men’s national team players will play Honduras in a city that was recently declared the most violent in the world (with 159 murders per 100,000 residents in 2011).
Honduras, like most Central American nations, is a soccer-crazy. Fans there can get violent, so the stadium includes a large fence, lined with barbed wire, around the pitch:
Generally, in international soccer it’s considered a win if you earn a tie when playing on foreign soil. For the US men’s national team, it might be a win if they return home with all their limbs intact.