CONCACAF World Cup qualifying

USMNT World Cup qualification
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The USMNT now knows its World Cup qualification path

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The United States men’s national team now knows its path to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in a big way.

Traditionally, nations competed to make it to the Hexagonal, where they would play five teams home-and-away for the right to qualify to the world’s most-celebrated tournament.

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This time, it’s an Octagonal.

The USMNT joins Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras as team given passes into the final round of qualifying.

Who will join them? Here’s how we will find out.

October and November will bring Round One, as six groups of five teams will decide one winner to advance to Round Two.

Then March 2021 sees the six group winners drawn against each other in two-legged ties to reach the Oct/Octo/Ocho (It’s gotta be The Oct, right?).

The 2019-20 CONCACAF Nations League semifinals will also be staged that month. As a reminder, Mexico meets Costa Rica and the USMNT faces Honduras in the semis.

The Oct — yeah, this seems right — will run June 2021-March 2022, with seven home and seven away matches for each nation determining which three nations get automatic berths in the winter World Cup.

June 2022 will see the intercontinental playoff between CONCACAF’s fourth-place team and a qualifier from another region. Let’s finish third or better, huh, Yanks? Don’t need that sort of stress in our summer.

Here’s what USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter had to say:

“It’s good that we have clarity regarding the format and scheduling, which allows us to chart the course ahead. We are looking forward to the challenge that this new World Cup Qualifying format will present. We have a busy 2021 that gives us the opportunity to compete for trophies and also take a big step towards qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

Hex no more: CONCACAF chief expects changes to World Cup qualifying

World Cup qualifying
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CONCACAF’s new World Cup qualifying method was incredibly unpopular with most of the confederation, and now it’s going to have to alter it.

The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the international calendar in a big way, and CONCACAF chief Victor Montagliani says the confederation will have to look beyond the celebrated six-team qualifying format popularly called “The Hex.”

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“I think on the balance of probabilities … the current World Cup format will have to be changed, which means, ultimately, that the Hex will have to be changed into some other form,” said Montagliani, the former Canada Soccer boss (video below). “Obviously it will be bigger, but what that number is, I don’t know until we have a calendar.”

As it stands, the huge beneficiary of an expanded field is Canada (and every team underneath it). They were seventh in the FIFA rankings and would only have hope of qualifying for the World Cup if they won the tournament pitting teams No. 7 and under, then beat the fourth-place team from the Hex, and then won an interconfederational playoff.

The top six teams are Mexico, the USMNT, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, and El Salvador. An expanded field could not include all 40-plus members, but here are the next 10 sides (if it goes to four groups of four):

Canada
Curacao
Panama
Haiti
Trinidad and Tobago
Antigua and Barbuda
Guatemala
St. Kitts and Nevis
Suriname
Nicaragua

The U.S. should still qualify given its status in the region, but we saw how that went in 2018. Here’s looking forward to the new format.

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
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WASHINGTON — D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

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The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

USMNT finishes 2019 as FIFA’s 22nd ranked team

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Belgium finishes the year in the No. 1 slot on FIFA’s rankings, something the Red Devils will hope is a harbinger of what’s to come at EURO 2020.

France, Brazil, England, and Uruguay finish second through fifth.

The United States men’s national team finishes the year at No. 22, up three spots from 2018. It’s their highest year-end finish since 2013 (14th) and one spot ahead of their all-time average spot.

The Yanks are ranked 39th by EloRatings, generally considered to be a fairer approximation of strength.

[ RELATED: Grading the USMNT’s 2019 ]

FIFA’s December release sees very few changes, and minimal ones at that. South Korea moves up a spot to 40th, South Africa up one to 71st, and Bolivia nudges its way into the Top 75.

China sinks to 76th, while only one nations moves more than a single spot. Hong Kong dips two to No. 141,

The new rankings again show which CONCACAF nations are on track to participate in the Hex.

El Salvador pulls into sixth place amongst CONCACAF teams with only six months to go until the rankings decide which six teams qualify for the Hex.

Mexico holds tight at 11, while the USMNT sits 22nd. Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras would join El Salvador to round out the Hex if it started today. That would leave Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago playing in the second group of World Cup qualifying.

The winner of that group would play in the playoff against the fourth-place team from the Hex, with the winner of that match playing an interconfederation playoffs for a spot in Qatar 2022.

USWNT World Cup qualifying preview: It’s happening

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Let’s start here: The United States women’s national team is either going to qualify for this summer’s World Cup, or get everyone at U.S. Soccer fired.

Everyone.

While there’s been progress in CONCACAF women’s soccer, the USMNT and Canada dominance remains on a level unlike most confederations.

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ESPN’s Paul Carr summed it up nicely while I was working on this particular post. Take a look.

Almost always held on home soil, the tournament plays right into the hands of the U.S. and Canada regardless of how the groups are drawn.

The top two teams in each group make the semifinals, and the teams that win their semi move on. If a favorite is upset in the semi, they simply have to avoid being upset in the third place game.

That means a USWNT team that has lost one of 28 matches in the tournament would have to lose of two in-a-row (or fail even more miserably against inferior group stage opponent). And the chances of the women sleepwalking into the tournament are very slim, given the Yanks didn’t even advance to play for a medal at the 2016 Olympics.

The USWNT has not lost in 2018, only drawing twice in 13 matches.

Their group mates are Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The USWNT beat Mexico 6-2 and 4-1 in April. T&T lost 5-1 to Mexico in May. Panama is a league below Mexico, too.

Oh and in terms of long time rivals Canada? A 3-1 win and 1-1 draw in their last two meetings.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch, or that the matches won’t be entertaining. The U.S. is bringing six attackers with a total of 308 international goals to go with only five roster members featuring 25 caps or fewer.

What it does mean is that the 2019 World Cup is gonna happen for the confident U.S., don’t worry. If it doesn’t, a lot of people get canned. And none of them are going to sleep anxious tonight despite that reality, but they’ll also have learned the lessons the men have not.

Please don’t read this as a cocky tone, rather measured and honest. It would probably be the second most stunning negative moment in U.S. Soccer history if the women failed to qualify for France.