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Why you will hate the new CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Format

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In case you haven't heard by now, CONCACAF is preparing to change its World Cup qualifying format dramatically, doing away with the old Hexagonal final qualifying round in favor of a two-group final round that gives eight teams a chance to battle for the three (or four) automatic World Cup berths the region receives.

So why will you hate it?

Under the new format, the final eight teams in CONCACAF qualifying will be placed in two four-team groups, with the winner of each group qualifying automatically and the two second-place teams playing off for the third automatic qualifying spot.

So why will you hate it?

No USA-Mexico. No trip to Azteca for the United States and no visit to frigid Crew Stadium for 'El Tri'.

Sound crazy? Too bad it's happening.

FIFA is expected to ratify the changes, which will go into effect for the 2014 World Cup qualifying cycle. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati acknowledged on Tuesday that the changes are likely to go through, and his only remark about the lost USA-Mexico qualifiers was to make clear the two rivals would still find ways to play each other.

No, it won't be the same. Not even close.

The United States and Mexico could still meet in the Gold Cup, and in friendlies, but chances are they would be kept in seperate qualifying groups under the new CONCACAF format, meaning no more of the heated qualifiers that both side's fans spend years looking forward to.

So why is CONCACAF making these changes? It's making them to give more of the region's smaller teams a chance to play against the big boys. The new system will consist of three group stages (eight groups of four, then four groups of four, then a final two groups of four), up from the current system's two group stages. It will mean 32 teams will have a chance to play in a group stage, instead of the 16 that used to play in group stages. It also means eight teams have that chance to survive the final round, up from the six that have made up the Hexagonal in the past.

The changes make sense if you're from a smaller country, but for Mexico and the United States it means more games against smaller nations and likely means the elimination of the big-money qualifiers against each other. If CONCACAF sticks to a stringent seeding process, and you have to believe the region will do its best to keep Mexico and the United States away from each other, then the days of Americans making the trip to Mexico City and Mexicans braving the cold in Ohio are over.

The likely tradeoff for the region's powers is that there is less of a chance of facing an early-round group of death (which is what we saw when Mexico, Honduras, Canada and Jamaica wound up in the same second-round group in 2008). There is some added danger in that a top power getting off to a slow start in the final group could find itself forced into a playoff for a World Cup place. When you consider how slowly Mexico started in the last Hexagonal qualifying cycle it isn't out of the realm of possibility.

The bright side? If there is one it's that there will be more early-round group matches to play and potentially give experience to younger players. Chances are there will be a few cupcakes in the first group stage where Bob Bradley can give a look to some inexperienced players. It also means more qualifying matches, which could conceivably help the FIFA rankings of CONCACAF's powers.

Is that worth the tradeoff of losing USA-Mexico qualifiers? Not really, but it's the system we're facing.

What do you think of this development? Hate the changes, or are you liking the idea of three group stages?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. My problem with it is that the first group stage will be an absolute joke. Mexico could break the 31-0 record that Australia has. Imagine Hernandez scoring 15 goals against Aruba. I could see the group stages of 16 or 8 teams. Biggest beneficiaries will be Jamaica, Canada, or Panama.
    Also, CONCACAF is kind of like Oceania’s 2 to last teams when you look at 20 to last place(especially 24 and lower). Would a number of these teams ranked 150 or lower even be able to afford extra games. A single site group stage could be what happens. If a single site group stage occurs, then all the higher seeded teams would be guaranteed advancement because they would be hosting the games.Thus, higher seeded teams should get a bye into the 16 team groups stage and only two group stages should occur.

  2. I think this is the best solution. Take the 10 CONMEBOL teams and the 2 CONCACAF powers, then use playoffs to determine another 15 CONCACAF sides (it’ll require two rounds of playoffs, but only for the super-minnows). Then put them into three groups of nine teams. Top 3 teams from each group advance to the WC (we’re stealing a spot from Asia in my fantasy).

    It’ll take away the auto-qualify for USA and Mexico, but they should still qualify 80% or so of the time and they’ll get a ton more experience in high-level games.

  3. It means more volatility. Instead of being graded on 10 games, we’ll be graded incrementally on 6 games. There is less time to respond to a bad game, just like in the world cup. In more volatile qualifying, the best teams overall don’t go through, the best teams on a small set of days goes through. This leads to poorer CONCACAF performance in the World Cup.

  4. Well I`m mexican and I feel like an intruder in this blog, but I feel the same that you`re feeling, the matches between Mexico & USA are the best in all the classification, and the real challenge for the both teams, it`s unbelievable the reasons that CONCACAF are putting over the table to explain this new way of classification, because really few countries will have real possibilities of clasification, and not even the economical reasons are a good reason, I think it would be suicidal; and I`m not the only one that feel like this; practically all the mexican fans of football soccer and by the way of “El Tri” are dissapointed, I hope that al least it won´t be approved.

  5. Too bad about the USA-Mexico rivalry in WCQ play. But this is part of the WORLD Cup, and that means as much world-wide participation as possible. In the current system a team like Barbados played 2 games against a giant and were eliminated, They lost 9-0 aggregate to the US, and were knocked out in a way that hurt their development.The new Concacaf way gives them a chance to at least grab a win or a couple of draws.

    If the World Cup was only about the best then Ireland, Russia and Turkey would have been in the finals ahead of North Korea, New Zealand and Honduras. The World Cup’s main mission is to publicize and grow the sport world-wide, particularly in countries where the sport is not number one. The new way helps grow the sport amongst the minnows in Concacaf, and that is good. In many of those minnow countries, baseball and cricket are the number one sports. I think the new way will give soccer a boost there.

  6. Top 3 of 6 is anti-climatic.. you can guarantee who will go thru. But now, only the group winner goes thru automatically. Makes it better. You can’t afford to slip up and you can potentially see an upset in the standings. Perhaps Mexico or US finishing 2nd, setting up a mouth-watering playoff within the region.

    It’s better imo.

  7. I should add that, the asininity of this move has pushed me to something I never thought I would support: The U.S. and Mexico crossing over to CONMEBOL, much like Australia crossed over to AFC.

  8. Gulati supported this idea? Really?

    No matter what, he’s got to give lip service to being on board with it, because we need the Caribbean votes to get either the ’18 or ’22 World Cup. However, I can’t imagine Gulati’s actions went beyond that bit of RealPolitik.

  9. Hate. Hate hate hate hate hate.

    It’s like CONCACAF is bound and determined to make the Eurosnobs’ criticisms of our qualifying true. It used to be relatively easy to qualify, but the strength of the group was on par with most of the groups you’ll see in Europe. Now, it will still be relatively easy to qualify, but the groups will be an absolute joke.

    As Rasheed Wallace says, cut that check. (In this case, to Jack Warner, on behalf of his Caribbean lackeys.)

  10. Before the qualifiers for 1998, Brasil and Argentina didnt play each other. Qualifiers used to be 2 groups of 5. top 2 make, best second was the third qualifier and the other 2nd place was for the asian playoff….

    So, we did have the idiotic system and we moved to a better one.

    Concacaf has it backwards.

    Hooray for progress…

  11. Seriously, do you think UEFA is considering manipulating its qualifying process to help Andorra?
    This damages the process for the two most powerful soccer nations in the region. There’s no way that’s smart.

  12. Yes Barbados is a much better team than the horrfic BVI and USVI. In relation to the US and Mexico though, they just don’t deserve to be on the same field.
    The number of supporters, the level of play, the money generated from the US and Mexico in National team soccer just can’t be compared to the CONCACAF minnows.
    I’d argue that it only benefits Canada and Jamaica. They are the only teams with the kind of soccer infrastructure which this change would benefit. Costa Rica and Honduras are good enough that they don’t need t. The other teams are too far behind for it to matter.

    Comparisons to Champions League are laughable since European soccer powers were always spread throughout the continent and not concentrated in two vastly superior countries whom the others could realistically not hope to match for a long long time.

    Do you not understand the reality that US and Mexico are THE powerhouses of CONCACAF? Imagine if CONMEBOL came up with a system where Brazil and Argentina no longer played each other in qualifying? It would be idiotic.

    Nothing against the smaller nations, but there are other ways to help them develop without harming the nations who bring in the money, the fans and the higher quality football (sound harsh? tough. it’s the truth and you know it).

  13. Exactly. Great point. Honduras, Costa Rica all have development and National team systems in place that are advanced enough so that this won’t do anything for them. The other teams are so far behind developmentally that the new qualifying system is like a drop of water in the river in terms of helping them out.

  14. I will be completely honest the only reason why I hate this is because no USA/Mexico that is the only reason for me. Rivalries is one of the best things about sports and I think USA/Mexico is one of the best rivalries in international soccer and soccer in general. You have two contrasting styles and two countries with very close proxmity. It was a rivalry that was still new, growing and the intensity was increasing each time. Now that rivalry can lose of that.

  15. First, there is an enormous difference between Barbados and either of the VI teams, BVI or USVI, though it would require you to know something about the federation your country belongs to to know that.

    Second, if the federation is to get better it must allow for the smaller teams to improve, it’s why the Champions League is the way it is now.

    Third, it’s not just the St Vincents of the region that will benefit. If I’m Canada or Jamaica I’m freaking psyched about this.

  16. Losing US v. Mexico sucks, but it gives more teams a shot at the 3rd place than the current set up does. I think that CONCACAF did the right thing. With more opportunity, more nations will take their national teams more seriously and compete harder than before which is good for the US in preparing for the World Cup.

  17. I agree on everything besides the Donovan in the MLS. His game is based on speed, it will be tough for him in 4 years and as much as I hate to even think it: he may need to be replaced….. I hope I am wrong.

  18. No matter what the format is…..the USMNT still has to earn the points for World Cup qualification.

    However, we’ll miss the passionate rivalry with Mexico at Columbus and Azteca….

  19. 3 developments this week that hurt U.S. Soccer in the long run:

    1. The extension of Bradley’s contract. History has shown that repeat national team coaches fare poorly…Arena, Lippi, Domenech.
    2. Donovan staying in MLS, a league which offers little opportunity for him to continue to elevate his game.
    3. The announcement of this ridiculous qualifying format that takes all the “teeth” out of the U.S. -Mexico rivalry, one of the few strong suits of CONCACAF.

  20. Long-term this could be a good thing, if it does what it intends by raising the rankings of the lower-tier countries. If rankings go up, then theoretically automatic berths for the region should follow suit (assuming FIFA keeps the same ranking system). At the same time maybe the smaller countries make more money by playing more games, thereby hopefully perpetuating a cycle of better investment in their soccer infrastructures. The U.S. and Mexico at this point are “all in” anyway as far as commitment to their respective federations, and likely will still sell out games against each other, even if they are just friendlies. So it’s not like we will completely lose a revenue stream, and regardless of it not being a WC qualifier, I doubt the rivalry loses too much intensity. So yeah, long-term who knows. Maybe the regions does build-up some, it never hurts to try it once.

    I just don’t think the sky is falling…….


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