By Ryan Rosenblatt / VOAO
Finally we can say: The USMNT knows their schedule for the 2022 World Cup cycle.
Qualifying, Nations League, Gold Cup, friendlies, we got it all. Or at least mostly. The federation will still have to schedule friendlies, and there’s the draw that will set when the U.S. plays who in World Cup qualifying, but we know what competitions the team will play in when!
So let’s take a look at the USMNT’s road through 2022.
World Cup qualifying
The Hex is back for one more go around. It will not exist in 2026 World Cup qualifying when the tournament expands to 48 teams (and, as a host, the U.S. won’t have to qualify), so this is the last time we will get to see six teams playing in a single group, home and away, for three spots in the World Cup.
There is one major change to the Hex this time, though – nobody will have to qualify for it.
Instead of a semifinal round of qualifying, or even a quarterfinal round of qualifying like we’ve had before, the top six Concacaf teams in the FIFA World Rankings (as of June 2020) will automatically qualify for the Hex.
That, almost certainly, will include the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica. All four have enough of a cushion that even a disastrous next 10 months will keep them safe. Honduras and El Salvador are currently the next two teams in the region, but Panama, Canada and Curacao are all within striking distance and can make a run at those final two spots with strong play in the next year (which will come in the Nations League).
The Hex will be played from September 2020 through September 2021, with the top three teams qualifying for Qatar. While that’s going on, the next 29 teams in the confederation will play a group stage and subsequent knockout stage tournament, with the winner playing a two-legged playoff against the Hex’s fourth place team for Concacaf’s spot in the inter-confederation playoff for a World Cup spot.
Notably, qualifying will end more than a year before the World Cup starts in November 2022.
Why is qualifying being handled this way? A few reasons:
- The big teams gave the confederation the Nations League and in exchange for a bunch of new matches against largely small teams, they got spared from a round or two of qualifiers against those small teams.
- Concacaf president Victor Montagliani has made it a priority to get the bottom 20 teams or so in the confederation more competitive matches. The Nations League is netting them at least eight of them, and the tournament for teams 7-35 in the confederation will guarantee those teams at least four to six more, so every team in the region is going to play more competitive matches deeper into the cycle.
- FIFA flirted with expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams even when it was ridiculous for Qatar to host more matches or partner with another country in a region that is currently in the middle of a cold war. As a result, Concacaf couldn’t set a qualifying format because they didn’t know how many teams they’d have to send to the World Cup or what the schedule would look like. They (and every other confederation) had to plan this out in short time.
Before World Cup qualifying starts, Concacaf is going to play the first-ever Nations League. Technically, the competition has already started, with much of the teams already playing an entire qualifying round. But the U.S. and the rest of the top teams in the confederation got a bye so they will begin their Nations League campaigns this fall.
The new competition has stakes because Concacaf decided so and there will be a trophy at the end of it. You can decide how much you care about it for yourself.
Whatever you think of it, the U.S. will play in it. They drew Canada and Cuba in their group and will play the two countries home and away in October and November of this year.
The group winner, along with the three other group winners, will advance to the semifinals. That will be played in March 2020, with the final several days later.
The next Gold Cup will be played in the summer of 2021 and the confederation has said that, as always, it will be hosted by the U.S.
FIFA has scrapped the Confederations Cup, so even if the U.S. (or any team besides Mexico) wins it, there will not be a Concacaf Cup or anything like that. Winning the Gold Cup is solely for regional bragging rights, but without the Confederations Cup, there won’t be one team sending its A-team to that tournament and B-team to the Gold Cup. The Gold Cup should be everyone’s top team.
There aren’t many empty dates left for U.S. Soccer to schedule friendlies … at least not until after qualifying is over. Then they’ll have a year of friendlies to get ready for the World Cup.
Oh, and January camp. There’s always January camp for MLSers.
September – Two friendlies
October – 11 vs. Cuba, 15 at Canada
November – 15 vs. Canada, 19 at Cuba
March – Nations League semifinals and final (if U.S. advances)
June – Friendlies
September – Two World Cup qualifiers
October – Two World Cup qualifiers
November – Two World Cup qualifiers
March – Two World Cup qualifiers
June – Gold Cup
September – Two World Cup qualifiers
October – World Cup qualifying playoff, if necessary
November – World Cup qualifying inter-confederation playoff, if necessary
November/December – World Cup (please qualify)