Concacaf Just Made It Even Simpler For USMNT To Qualify For World Cup

They’ll probably still blow it.

Concacaf announced the redesigned qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday. The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football has made it even simpler for the two heavyweights in the region — Mexico and the United States — to qualify for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

In previous years, the top teams in Concacaf would join the qualifying process in the fourth of five rounds, ending with the “Hex” stage with the top six teams that usually could have been predicted from the start. It was a long, drawn-out process that before 2018 seemed totally unnecessary because a team like the U.S. or Mexico would never actually fail to qualify.

Oops.

How USMNT Qualifies For World Cup 2022

For the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Concacaf has simplified the qualifying process for the top six teams in the confederation. Instead of joining the mountain of other teams in a giant tournament, Concacaf has decided to put the top six teams straight into the Hex. Everyone else is in a free-for-all.

How it will work is fairly simple. The top six teams by ranking will only play in a single round-robin group stage. Concacaf will use the FIFA rankings from June 2020 to determine these positions; currently that’d be Mexico, U.S., Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador.

Just as with before, the top three teams from the Hex will automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup. That’s 10 World Cup qualifiers as opposed to the 16 that were played ahead of the 2018 World Cup. The fourth-place team is still alive but doesn’t go straight to the intercontinental playoff as before.

Instead, the teams ranked 7-35 in Concacaf (everyone from Panama and Canada to Anguilla and the Bahamas) will play for a right to be in that intercontinental playoff. These 29 teams will compete in a group stage with round-robin, home-and-away matches to feed into a knockout phase with two-legged matches, home and away. There will be five groups of four and three groups of three with the group winners advancing to the knockout rounds.

The winner of that tournament then plays the fourth-place finisher from the Hex for the right to compete in the intercontinental playoff to go to the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA hasn’t yet revealed which confederation the Concacaf team will play — in 2018 it was the Asian Football Confederation (Australia beat Honduras) and in 2014 the Oceania Football Confederation (Mexico beat New Zealand).

“The love for the game in this region is growing rapidly and our diverse and dynamic communities want a clear pathway to world-class football,” Concacaf President Victor Montagliani said in a news release. “Through our freshly designed formats — across FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, Concacaf Nations League and Concacaf Gold Cup — we are staging more competitive international matches than ever-before to help these communities fulfill their potential.

“This new FIFA World Cup Qualifying format, based on the FIFA rankings, makes every competitive match count. Alongside the Concacaf Nations League, and our expanded Gold Cup, it will raise standards of play to unprecedented levels and develop the sport across the region. Making the leading Concacaf nations stronger on the global stage, while giving our emerging footballing nations the chance to pursue their dreams of playing at a World Cup.”

Basically, Montagliani is saying he wants Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica to be better prepared for the World Cup and the rest of the nations better improve their FIFA rankings or risk not qualifying. The U.S. is currently ranked 30th, with a decent cushion over sixth-place El Salvador at 69, so there’s little risk of the Americans falling out of the top six for immediate entry into the Hex. It will be interesting to see what sort of scheduling the teams on the cusp of the Hex (think Canada, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador) opt for given the importance of making it into the top six.  

Date, location and procedures for the draw to determine the groups and match schedule for the Hex will be announced later this year, Concacaf said.

Four years ago, the U.S. struggled at times to get through the fourth round and into the fifth-round Hex before faltering on the last day of World Cup qualifying to miss the 2018 tournament. Now, Concacaf has made it simpler to qualify. There are fewer World Cup-potential matches to get the teams in the Hex ready for the World Cup, but the streamlined process should only help the U.S. 

In theory.

But at least we know the U.S. will qualify for the 2026 World Cup

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