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Can U.S. men atone for failure, advance to 2022 World Cup in soccer?

A preview to the start of CONCACAF qualifying: 8 teams will vie for 3 automatic spots in Qatar

Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team reacts to their loss against Trinidad and Tobago during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match in 2017. The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as a result of the loss. (Photo by Ashley Allen)
Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team reacts to their loss against Trinidad and Tobago during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match in 2017. The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as a result of the loss. (Photo by Ashley Allen) (Getty Images)

The last time the United States Men’s Soccer Team took the field for a World Cup qualifier, it produced one of the most humiliating moments in the program’s history.

In the last game of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in the CONCACAF group, all the U.S. needed was a draw against lowly Trinidad and Tobago, which entered the match with one win in nine qualifying contests.

But the Americans couldn’t even pull that off, losing 2-1, falling to fifth in the six-team group and failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. It was the first time since 1986 the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Now, qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (scheduled for next November instead of the traditional summer time slot) has arrived, and the U.S. hopes to make amends.

The first step toward doing so will be a 10:05 ET game at El Salvador.

Here’s a breakdown of the qualifying format, the U.S. forecast, and other teams to watch in this qualifying group.


Format

The number of teams in the CONCACAF (which stands for Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) group has grown to eight teams from six for a chance to compete in Qatar.

Each team will play 14 matches (seven home, seven away) between Thursday and March, with the top-three teams earning automatic bids to Qatar.

The teams will each play three games in September, three in October, two in November, two in January, one in February and three in March.

The fourth-place team will have an opportunity to qualify by prevailing in a two-game Intercontinental Playoff (aggregate score from both games) against a team from either Asia, South America or Oceania.

After qualifying ended in 2017, the fourth-place team was Honduras, which lost to Australia 3-1 on aggregate over a two-game playoff and didn’t qualify.

Participating countries will be the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, Canada, El Salvador and Panama.

What are the chances for the U.S.?

Despite the disappointment of the 2017 qualifying failure, the Americans enter with expectations to get it done and be in Qatar, especially since they are building for when they host a majority of the World Cup games in 2026.

Christian Pulisic (22 years old) became the first American player to ever appear in a Champions League final for Chelsea earlier this year, and headlines a young contingent of American players making significant contributions for European clubs. Others are Josh Sargent (21 years old), Giovanni Reyna (18 years old), Konrad De La Fuente (20 years old), Brenden Aaronson (20 years old), Tyler Adams (22 years old) and Weston McKennie (23 years old). In addition, 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi, who chose to play for the U.S. team instead of Mexico, is another intriguing young player.

The U.S. will further be buoyed by the fact it won the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July with essentially its “B” team, earning a 1-0 win over Mexico in the final.

Pulisic recently tested positive for COVID-19, but is expected to play after clearing protocol.

Following Thursday’s game against El Salvador, the U.S. will host Canada on Sunday night in Nashville and play at Honduras on Sept. 8 in what will be a grueling stretch.

Is Mexico still the favorite in the group?

It would still be hard to disregard El Tri as the best team in the group, despite the surprising loss to the U.S. in the Gold Cup final.

A more veteran and seasoned unit than the United States, Mexico is led by Raul Jimenez, Johan Vasquez, Nestor Arajuo, Andres Guardado, Edson Alvarez and Jesus Corona, all of whom play in Europe.

If Mexico stumbles, Costa Rica, which finished second in the CONCACAF qualifying group in both 2014 and 2018, could be the next team to beat.

Coming off its first-ever World Cup appearance after qualifying third out of the CONCACAF group in 2018, Panama looks for bigger and better things also.

Sleeper team up north?

For the first time since 1997, Canada has advanced to the final stage of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF.

Much like the U.S. and Mexico, the Canadians are building toward 2026, when the three North American countries will host the World Cup in a joint venture.

Canada has been a much-improved team as of late, beating Costa Rica at the Gold Cup in a quarterfinal and playing Mexico tough in a semifinal before losing, 2-1.

Alphonso Davies, at just 20 years old, is one of the world’s best young midfielders/defenders who plays for legendary Bayern Munich, while Jonathan David is a rising 21-year-old who plays professionally in France.

Cyle Larin (26 years old) and Stephen Eustaquio (24 years old) are two more European club players who are entering the prime of their careers and provide veteran leadership for the Canadians.

The only time Canada ever qualified for the World Cup was in 1986.

More so, if Canada chooses to play home games during the fall and winter months at an outdoor stadium (Canada’s two home games in September are at BMO Field, an outdoor stadium in Toronto), the cold weather won’t be fun for their more southern-based opponents.

That scenario is unlikely in January and February, but more realistic in October, November and March.

The U.S. is employing a similar strategy for its home games against rivals Costa Rica (Oct. 13 in Columbus) and Mexico (Nov. 12 in Cincinnati).

Odds of it being a wee bit chilly for each of those games are pretty good.

Full schedule

Sept. 2

Honduras at Canada

United States at El Salvador

Costa Rica at Panama

Jamaica at Mexico

Sept. 5

Canada at United States (Nashville)

Honduras at El Salvador

Mexico at Costa Rica

Panama at Jamaica

Sept. 8

El Salvador at Canada

United States at Honduras

Mexico at Panama

Jamaica at Costa Rica

Oct. 7

Canada at Mexico

Costa Rica at Honduras

Panama at El Salvador

Jamaica at United States (Austin)

Oct. 10

Canada at Jamaica

Honduras at Mexico

El Salvador at Costa Rica

United States at Panama

Oct. 13

Panama at Canada

Jamaica at Honduras

Mexico at El Salvador

Costa Rica at United States (Columbus)

Nov. 12

Costa Rica at Canada

Panama at Honduras

Jamaica at El Salvador

Mexico at United States (Cincinnati)

Nov. 16

Mexico at Canada

Honduras at Costa Rica

El Salvador at Panama

United States at Jamaica

Jan. 27

Canada at Honduras

El Salvador at United States

Panama at Costa Rica

Mexico at Jamaica

Jan. 30

United States at Canada

El Salvador at Honduras

Costa Rica at Mexico

Jamaica at Panama

Feb. 2

Canada at El Salvador

Honduras at United States

Panama at Mexico

Costa Rica at Jamaica

March 24

Canada at Costa Rica

Honduras at Panama

El Salvador at Jamaica

United States at Mexico

March 27

Jamaica at Canada

Mexico at Honduras

Costa Rica at El Salvador

Panama at United States

March 30

Canada at Panama

Honduras at Jamaica

El Salvador at Mexico

United States at Costa Rica


About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.