Hello, believe it or not, this site started out primarily talking United States Men’s National Team and US Soccer. The emergence of professional soccer in Nashville has… taken a bite out of the time available for that. However, we occasionally return to those roots. This is one such occasion.
Yesterday Wednesday in Zurich [we simply love to get things done in a timely fashion], Concacaf’s draw for 2022 World Cup Qualification took place. With a shift in the format of the qualification process due to [gestures at the rest of the room], there will be an Octagonal Round with five automatic qualifiers – including the United States. The remaining 30 teams will play in what can best be described as a pre-tournament for the right to be one of the remaining three teams in the main draw.
The confederation’s top three finishers in the Octagonal will automatically qualify for Qatar. The fourth-place team will play against a team from Asia, Oceania, or South America (the draw will be held at a later date) for the right to play in the World Cup.
The US path
Since they were selected according to FIFA ranking, we know the four automatic qualifiers joining the US in the Octagonal: Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico. In fact, we even know the windows of the Americans’ games against those teams, barring delays due to [once again gestures to the world around us].
|June 2021 (third date)||@ Honduras|
|June 2021 (fourth date)||Jamaica|
|September 2021 (second date)||Costa Rica|
|October 2021 (first date)||Mexico|
|October 2021 (second date)||@ Jamaica|
|January 2022 (first date)||Honduras|
|January 2022 (second date)||@ Mexico|
|March 2022 (second date)||@ Costa Rica|
The Americans will face qualifiers out of the preliminary bracket (this is technically the first and second rounds of Concacaf qualifying – I’m calling it preliminary for the sake of simplicity) in the remaining six dates: two at the beginning of next June, one in September, two in November, and one in March.
As you can see, among the scheduled games, there’s a fairly soft start (three of the four games at home, the lone road game not against Costa Rica or Mexico, the top two non-US teams in the Confederation), but a rough, rough finish with trips to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and Estadio Nacionál in San Jose.
Filling in games against teams that not only aren’t as good per the current FIFA rankings, but will also have to go through a semi-grueling process to even get to the Octagonal, and it looks a little less daunting. But collecting full points against those teams, and preferably being qualified before heading to Mexico, much less Costa Rica, would be the strong, strong preference.
So who are the other 30 teams?
The other 30 teams are those in the Concacaf region – Canada from North America, five non-CRC/HON teams from Central America, and 24 from the Caribbean region – ranked 6th-through-35th in Concacaf according to the FIFA rankings. They’re divided into six groups of five teams apiece, and will play a single round-robin schedule within their group. The winner of each group is paired with the winner of another group (AvF, BvE, CvD), and those two-legged playoffs will result in the final three standing: the bottom three teams in the Octagonal.
So that’s the format, but I mean who are the teams?
The top seed in each group is (and their groupmates are):
- Group A – El Salvador
- Group B – Canada
- Group C – Curaçao
- Group D – Panama
- Group E – Haiti
- Group F – Trinidad and Tobago
Interestingly, should Trinidad and Tobago advance through Group F and then knock off El Salvador, the United States would begin its 2022 qualifying campaign the same place it ended the 2018 cycle: a road match against the Trinbagonian side. Just eyeballing things, Canada and Panama look like the favorites to advance from among these seeded teams. Of course, nobody knows better than the USMNT that upsets happen when things get Concacaf-y. If all six seeded teams make it through their groups, I’ll be surprised. If that happens and the favorites win the subsequent knockout series, it would be stunning amounts of chalk for a region that tends to get a little wild.
Next Summer should be quite the test of the administrative capabilities of the Federation, too. There will be a difficult balancing act with plenty of competition (qualifying, Gold Cup, Olympics, possibly/likely the conclusion of the Concacaf Nations League) to avoid overtaxing specific portions of the player pool
Nashville SC impact
It’s a wild world when Nashville SC – which you may note, was playing in the USL Championship a year ago – has a half-dozen or more full (or borderline) internationals. But that’s where we stand, so assuming the roster returns as currently composed next year, you’ll have a lot of seeing boys in Red, White, and Blue (some useful color synergy in the region, thankfully) when you’re used to seeing them in Gold.
Fringe US call-ups are more likely given the crowded international calendar, too.
- Brayan Beckeles – Honduras (He’s already 34, so it would be an upset for him to still be contributing next Summer)
- Tanner Dieterich – USA (Olympic-eligible, though it’s been a while since he’s been in the US setup)
- Aníbal Godoy – Panama
- Alistair Johnston – Canada (only called up to the U-20s once, but he seems… on an upward trajectory)
- Derrick Jones – USA (possibly Olympic-eligible, but could also be a fringe guy for the senior team)
- Randall Leal – Costa Rica
- Dan Lovitz – USA (fringe)
- Jack Maher – USA (Olympic-eligible)
- Dax McCarty – USA (fringe)
- Brady Scott – USA (Olympic-eligible)
- Walker Zimmerman – USA
…and that’s even before getting into the idea that, uh, Concacaf isn’t the only region in the world, and there are players with national-team potential in Africa (David Accam has played for Ghana in the past, for example), and South America (Miguel Nazarit has been a Colombia Youth International), as well.
In a time where all news is global, national soccer news can be a little bit local, as well.