The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) announced some significant changes to the qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Those changes will likely benefit the “Big 3” in the region.
The long and short of it is this: the US Men’s National Team, assuming their ranking stays within the top six in the region, will be able to skip what was previously the fourth round of World Cup qualifying and proceed directly to the Hex — where their 2018 World Cup dreams met their demise.
That group of six will be set as of June 2020 and is based on FIFA’s published rankings. Currently, the USA is ranked 30 overall, good for second in the CONCACAF region.
New Concacaf format for WC 2022 qualifying. Hex = top 6 Concacaf teams in FIFA rankings after June 2020 window. Top 3 go to Qatar. Fourth-place team plays winner of competition involving rest of Concacaf, then intercontinental playoff. Current Top 10 after June 2019 window: pic.twitter.com/Y7iaHSqTjg— Paul Kennedy (@pkedit) July 10, 2019
The change will have a significant benefit to those six teams, as previously the fourth round of qualifying required the United States to play six games against opponents of significant less quality — though the USMNT managed to lose one game and tie one game in that round in 2016.
Once in the “Hex”, the qualification procedure is essentially the same. The teams will play 10 round-robin games (home-away), with the top three teams automatically qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
From there, things get a little convoluted. Teams ranked 7-35 (based on the same June 2020 FIFA rankings) will play in their own group stage, followed by a knockout stage. The winner of that mini-tournament will play the fourth-place team from the “Hex” to see who plays in the inter-confederation playoff game. The winner of that game will advance to the 2022 World Cup. The opponent in the inter-confederation playoff format will be determined at a later date.