Concacaf on Monday unveiled a 3-round qualifying format for the next World Cup, to be held in Qatar from November 21-December 18, 2022. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been some changes, including a 8-team final round instead of 6 teams as in recent cycles.
Round 1 begins in October, where teams ranked 6th-35th in the confederation rankings as of July 15 will be split up into 6 pre-seeded groups of 5, with El Salvador, Canada, Curaçao, Panama, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago the top seeds in groups A-F, respectively, by virtue of their rankings within Concacaf. Each team in the 6 groups will play each other home and away, with the 6 group winners advancing to Round 2 in March.
Round 2 will feature a knockout format between the winners of Group A vs. Group F, Group B vs. Group E, and Group C vs. Group D. The winners of each matchup advance to the final 8.
The final round, held between June 2021 and March 2022, will be the “octagonal”, featuring the 3 qualifiers and the top 5 teams in the confederation: Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras. Repeating the home-and-away format of Round 1, the top 3 finishers earn a place in Qatar, while the 4th-place finisher will move to a inter-confederation playoff against a nation to be determined later.
Of course, the United States will be looking to chase the demons of the last qualifying cycle, one that ended in Trinidad and Tobago on October 10, 2017. With a group that will center around a young core led by Christian Pulisic, will it turn out to be lesson learned or more of the same? We’ll find out.