Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t a fan of changing up the current format of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region.
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The head of soccer’s governing body in North and Central America and the Caribbean, Victor Montagliani, called the current system “archaic” and wants more CONCACAF teams included right up until the end of the qualifying window.
In the USA’s region the current format sees the final round of qualifying, known widely as the Hexagonal, include just six teams and of those the top three automatically go through to the World Cup and the fourth-place team is involved in a playoff with the playoff winner from the Asian Football Confederation for a World Cup spot.
Speaking to the media in Washington, D.C. ahead of the USMNT’s friendly against New Zealand on Tuesday, Klinsmann isn’t exactly a fan of the new suggestions to spice up CONCACAF qualifying.
“What is our lesson from Copa America? Our lesson from Copa America is if we want to get our program better we have to play with the best,” Klinsmann said. “In youth soccer terms, you need to play up. [If] you have an 11-year-old super talent, don’t play him with the 11-year-olds, Play him with the 12-year-olds. For us, if we want to get better, we need to play with the best teams out there from South America or from Europe.”
“I’m not saying we need to join UEFA or we need to join CONMEBOL, but for us the eternal topic is the need to get the best games in order to improve our players. So if we can have every two years a Copa America, we need to let a [biennial] Gold Cup go.”
Simply put: the less games against CONCACAF opponents, the better.
As much fun as it would be to see an expanded qualifying system for CONCACAF — say, 12 teams make it through to the final round (cut out the third round altogether) and then the top three go through and the fourth place team goes to the playoff — in terms of FIFA rankings and testing yourself against the best it would be harmful.
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Of course, not too many people care about the FIFA rankings but for the U.S. there are obviously benefits of playing friendlies against top South American or European teams in non-competitive windows rather than playing CONCACAF teams who they know they’ll easily beat.
Other CONCACAF nations will likely feel a lot different than Klinsmann and the USMNT but when all is said and done would any other team other than the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago seriously challenge to make the World Cup?
The smaller CONCACAF nations will argue they could and the decision will lie with Montagliani rather than Klinsmann or the other big players in the region. However if there are more teams in the final round of qualifying would it be possible for CONCACAF to suggest to FIFA that it needs four automatic spots to a World Cup and fifth place in CONCACAF would go to a playoff with the AFC?
There will be plenty more chatter on this in the days to come.