Americans confront Arctic game, sportsbooks worry about a repeat World Cup ice-out

Lance Pugmire
USA TODAY Sports+

As the United States men’s soccer team confronts frostbite warnings for a Wednesday night Concacaf assignment against Honduras, the peril of missing a second consecutive World Cup is suddenly at hand. 

Last time around, it was U.S. television ratings sabotaged by the Americans’ collapse. 

This time, there’s consternation from those who operate the nation’s top online sportsbooks. 

“If Team USA does not make the World Cup, we could see a drop between 10-15% in the overall handle,” FanDuel Sportsbook spokesman Kevin Hennessy said. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”

Hennessy said “the less-than-ideal time zone,” of playing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar could also be a detriment, but added he saw a significant spike in local interest in the women’s World Cup when the U.S. women’s team participated, “so that would be our best apples-to-apples comparison.”

The U.S. condition took a downturn Sunday when the Americans were shut out 2-0 by Canada in Hamilton, Ontario. Midfielder Tyler Adams injured his hamstring during the loss and is out of Wednesday’s game, as is U.S. defender Chris Richards (ankle) after playing the entire game against Honduras. 

COLD REALITY:U.S. men's national team frozen out by Canada, 2-0, in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier

The gravity of the Americans’ plight was stoked by Canada striker Cyle Larin repeating his teammate Milan Borjan’s opinion that the U.S. played “scared” against its northern rival. 

Canada forward Cyle Larin (17) dribbles the ball away from United States defender Chris Richards (15) during Sunday's World Cup qualifying match.

Seeking its first World Cup berth in 36 years, Canada (6-0-4) leads the Concacaf standings with 22 points, while the U.S. (5-2-3) is tied with Mexico for second place (18 points), followed by Panama (17 points) and Costa Rica (13 points). 

The top three Concacaf teams advance to the World Cup and the fourth-place finisher is relegated to a do-or-die intercontinental playoff game against a team from Oceania. 

Four games remain for the Americans, and two of those are troublesome road assignments against Mexico — where the U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier — and Costa Rica. The final World Cup qualifying game is against Panama March 27, which defeated the U.S. 1-0 in October. 

LIVE STREAM AND TV INFOive:United States men's national soccer team Concacaf World Cup qualifier vs. Honduras

Residual fear from missing the Cup in 2018 hovers, but the Americans see a path to Qatar by defeating Honduras and Panama. 

They learned four years ago nothing is guaranteed. 

“Our focus right now is finishing off the window with a win against [Honduras], which we know is easier said than done,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters after the Canada loss. “If we can do that, we'll be in good position. And then it's about going into the last window and getting results. And we’re confident we have a team that can do that.” 

Christian Pulisic and the USMNT will be under pressure to get a win against Honduras on Wednesday night.

While Honduras trails all in the Concacaf standings and was routed by the U.S. 4-1 in September, playing Wednesday night in Arctic-feeling Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, provides a perplexing circumstance. 

The temperature is expected to reach 0 degrees during the FS1-televised game that begins at 7:30 p.m. ET, leaving no man wearing shorts feeling too comfortable. Weather reports alert frostbite in those conditions can strike exposed skin within 15 minutes. 

Tipico Sportsbook lists the U.S. as a sizable -750 favorite in the match. 

KEY ABSENCES:Tyler Adams, Chris Richards ruled out for USMNT's World Cup qualifier vs. Honduras

Hennessy said if the Americans slip tonight or against Panama and fall out of November’s World Cup, it “hurts the pride of the casual American soccer fan” who’d otherwise be moved to bet on the global tournament. 

Jay Rood, senior vice president of risk and trading at Bally’s Interactive, said when he previously booked the World Cup for several MGM properties along the Las Vegas Strip, “Team USA was a driving factor in getting people to the book.” 

Rood is hopeful the advent of legalized online sports betting in more than half of states, including New York, New Jersey and Arizona, will soften the blow because the World Cup should draw international interest from the melting pot. 

He predicts “the betting public will engage in it as one of the better wagering tournaments on the calendar. Obviously, if USA is in, it’s a bonus, but I don’t think it will dry up” if they’re not. 

The wrinkle Rood is intrigued by is how Americans will respond to the World Cup being moved off its typical summertime dates and played in November and December because of Qatar’s scorching heat, landing during the heart of the NFL season. 

That could be the “bigger problem” in defusing the U.S.-based betting handle on the tournament since the NFL is far-and-away the most popular wagering sport. 

“But that might actually help,” he reconsidered. “Everyone (will be) in betting mode.” 

Meanwhile, another prominent bookmaker, the Las Vegas Superbook’s Jay Kornegay, said his concern over World Cup betting traffic in the U.S. is centered on a squad other than the U.S. men’s national team.

“Mexico missing would be a huge impact,” Kornegay said.

El Tri hosts Panama tonight at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, with Tipico Sportsbook posting Mexico as a -320 favorite. 

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