After a hugely successful run in June, the U.S. national team can begin dreaming about a seventh straight World Cup bid.SANDY, Utah -- It's getting close now. Very close.
With its 1-0 win against Honduras Tuesday night, the United States put itself in the Hexagonal's driver seat, with 13 points through six matches and a six-point cushion over Honduras in fourth place.
No team with 13 points through six matches in the Hexagonal has ever failed to make the World Cup. For all intents and purposes, it appears the USA is headed for Brazil next summer for its seventh straight appearance in world soccer's showcase.
"I think we've certainly put one foot in the door," U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi told reporters after the game. "Those nine points were absolutely massive for us. It puts us at the top of the table where we want to be and even closer to Brazil."
After a stuttering start to the Hexagonal, Jurgen Klinsmann's team has rounded into red-hot form, taking 13 of a possible 15 points from its five Hex matches following an opening-game loss at Honduras. The run includes three wins from three June matches.
A look back at past Hexagonals shows just how close the Yanks are to clinching a berth in Brazil. In both the 2010 and 2006 cycles, the final guaranteed berth was clinched with 16 points. It took 17 points in the 2002 cycle, and just 14 in 1998.
"[We're] trying to keep our feet on the ground of course, but going back 15 to 20 years, we know what point total gets you to the World Cup and we're close," goalkeeper Tim Howard told reporters. "So it's been a hugely successful summer.
"This sets us up great for the autumn qualifiers. We're in the driver seat now, so it's been an upbeat summer and it will be an even better fall."
Still, nothing is a given in CONCACAF, and the United States still has road games against Panama and Costa Rica remaining, as well as home matches against Mexico and Jamaica.
In his post-match press conference, Klinsmann was quick to stress that until a berth in Brazil was officially secured, there would be no premature celebrations.
"We are not talking about the finish line. We have four games to go," the German coach said.
"We know that once we get together again in September, it's going to be another grind. It's going to be very tough down in Costa Rica, and it's going to be a huge game at home against Mexico, so we know we need more points."
A win over Costa Rica would clinch no worse than fourth in the Hexagonal -- and a place in a playoff against New Zealand in November -- no matter what the results are in the other games.
Midfielder Michael Bradley echoed his coach's sentiment.
"Tonight was three big points," he told reporters. "But having said that, it's not over until it's mathematically all finished."
After three massive wins, the United States is trying to keep its feet on the ground. But it will also be well aware that one of those feet is already in Brazil 2014.