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CONCACAF announces World Cup qualifying format; U.S. to enter in November


Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports



The U.S. Men’s National Team’s quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup will begin this November.

CONCACAF announced the format and schedule for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers on Monday. The draw for the qualifying process will be conducted Thursday.

Round One of qualifying will feature the 14 lowest ranked of CONCACAF’s 35 member nations, while 13 more teams will be entered into the second phase against the winners of the opening round. Round Three will then see the introduction of the seventh and eighth ranked teams, Jamaica and Haiti, as six teams will qualify for the fourth round group stages.

The U.S., along with Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama will enter in Round Four, which consists of three groups of four teams and will be played from November 2015 to September 2016. Six teams will then emerge into the confederation’s Hexagonal stage, which will see three teams automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Have a look at the full schedule below:

Round One (March 23 – 31, 2015)

The 14 teams ranked 22 to 35 (FIFA ranking as of August 2014) constitute the 14 Round One teams. The round consists of 7 home-and-away series. The seven (7) winners advance to Round Two.

Round Two (June 8 – 16, 2015)

The 7 Round One series winners will then join the 13 teams ranked 9 to 21 (FIFA rankings as of August 2014) in Round Two. The 20 teams will be paired into 10 home-and-away series. The ten (10) winners advance to Round Three.

Round Three (August 31 – September 8, 2015)

The 10 Round Two series winners will then join the 2 teams ranked 7 to 8 (FIFA rankings as of August 2014) in Round Three. The 12 teams will be paired into 6 home-and-away series. The six (6) winners advance to Round Four.

Round Four (November 7 – 17, 2015 / March 21 – 29, 2016 / August 29 – September 6, 2016)

The 6 Round Three series winners will then join the 6 teams ranked 1 to 6 (FIFA rankings as of August 2014) in Round Four. The 12 teams will be grouped into 3 round-robin, home-and-away groups of 4 teams. The six (6) group winners and runner-ups will advance to Round Five.

Round Five (November 7 – 15, 2016 / March 20 – 28, 2017 / June 5 – 13, 2017 / August 28 – September 5, 2017 / October 2 – 10, 2017)

The 3 Round Three group winners and 3 Round Three group runner-ups will contest Round Five. The 6 teams will form 1 round-robin, home-and-away group.


  1. last concacaf Hexagonal was the zhit…. it took the last hex game to decide which 3 teams would go to the WC and which team would play New Zealand.

    The result in all three matches mattered. I wouldn’t mind increasing the last round (Hex) to 8 teams… this could elevate the drama even more. Welcome to the “Octo”.

    • the Octagonal!

      Canada looks to be on its way to being a respectable team. if this happens i really wouldn’t mind seeing this.

      Right now we have a big 5 (USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama) of teams that have a strong chance of WC qualification, including 3 others from the range of Guatemala, Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Canada, Haiti, El Salvador.. wouldn’t be a bad thing.

      • As a Canadian, I can say we are nowhere near being respectable. We haven’t won a match in Central America in a long, long time and until we do so, we won’t be going anywhere. While recent results have been somewhat encouraging, the Gold Cup will be a truer indication as to any progress made.

      • well my apologies for bringing it up.. i see U20, previous cycle U23 teams doing okay, lots of academy/young players coming thru in MLS and abroad.. i feel like its eminent.

        but you are right, the senior team has yet to do anything in recent memory to make me take them seriously.. someday.

  2. I can’t wait until N. and Central America leave the corrupt as f*$^ CFU and join CONMEBOL. Hopefully the 2016 Copa América is just the opening act of a longer term relationship that eventually leads to a realignment.

    We need the elevated competition if we want to be truly world class someday and CONMEBOL needs the members (votes) and money.

      • money, money, money…. Copa America has to be moved to the US as permanent fixture…

        I remembered the last two Copas in Argentina and Venezuela watching tv camera shots of empty seats especially when the host country is not playing in those games…. of course, with exceptions of quarter finals and finals.

        it wouldn’t surprise me if Gold Cup surpasses Copa America in terms of revenue.

      • CONMEBOL needs the members (votes) and money.

        Were such a realignment to actually happen, CONMEBOL and UEFA would have the money, members and prestige needed to force reforms through FIFA.

  3. So if I’m reading this right, the US will enter about eight months earlier than it did last cycle. But they’ll only finish up a month earlier (presuming they make the hex). So the group stage lasts longer in terms of calendar time.

  4. I like it! More interesting early round games and the big games come earlier.

    It will be a bit different to have the first US group stage games all like 4-5 months apart. And the group ending and the hex beginning the same fall. But all in all can’t wait!

  5. Suriname is close to allow dual-nationality for football players. If they do and get a full-strength squad (sans the players who’d obviously play for the Netherlands), they’d be close to being the 4th pwer of the region.

    If this happens, my bet on the hex would be:

    Costa Rica

    With Canada, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Trinidad and El Salvador exiting in the group stage.

  6. While I can understand holding teams like the US, MEX, CR out of qualifying matches until later down the line….this format does have a drawback to CONCACAF Teams looking to possibly get seeded in the WC.
    FIFA allocates more points to meaningful matches (WC Qualifiers, Regional Tournaments, Confederations Cup, WC) than they do for friendlies. Since the US, MEX & CR won’t enter into qualifiers until much later in the cycle they have less points that could be earned toward a possible seeding at the 2018 WC.

    • I’ll disagree with this a bit–Europe has 10 WC qualifiers, Africa for the most part 6 + the Cup of Nations, and S. America their decagonal so 18 but spread out over a large period of time. N.America’s 10 qualifiers for the hex are all in the current year which gets weighted the most, plus the Gold Cup, plus potentially the Confederations Cup. I see the overall point but really especially for this cycle the USA has a chance to clean up in 2017.

      • Looking strictly at the WC qualifiers, on paper, it would appear as if we’d all have the same opportunity for points. However, once you take the weighted Coefficients of the Confederations into consideration, than UEAFA & CONMEBOL have a greater chance to amas points compaired to the seeded CONCACAF teams. The US, Mex, CR would need to play more competitive matches to earn the equivelent number of points to equal European & S. American garnered in less games.

        In this cycle there is the chance that the gap can be bridged if FIFA allocates the Super Copa “A” ranked points in relationship to CONMEBOL’s Coefficient, but I’ve yet to see how FIFA will handle the tournament in relationship to guest CONCACAF teams participating in CONMEBOLs tournament.

      • about those friendly to “earn equivalent number of points”..

        Europe has drastically changed their EURO format and will have a busy schedule among their members for the next four years and in the future. Pretty much all first and second tier euro countries wont be playing friendlies against the US team anymore (with some few exceptions)… same thing will happen to the south americans.

        This leaves the door open for more concacaf vs conmebol friendlies and the opportunity to advance in FIFA rankings.

  7. How is this format different than previous formats?

    I’ll tell you what, it looks like any team that makes it from the second or third stage will be battle hardened and ready to make war against any of the top boys in the region!

      • Wonder who advances into the Hex this year?

        Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Honduras seem mostly automatic. After that it gets interesting.

        Panama, probably, but then you’ve got El Salvador/Guatamala/Jamaica/Canada all vying for those last two spots too. Wouldn’t mind seeing Panama not make the Hex. They’ll be carrying some hatred for us this time around after we ripped their hearts out.

        Also be nice to see Canada step up and be relevant this time around.

  8. Interesting.

    So the US will need to play 16 games to qualify for the world cup (or 18 if they come in 4th).

    Puerto Rico (for example) would need to play a whopping 22 games (more likely 24 games, ’cause if they actually made it to the hex, their odds of getting 3rd would be . . . slim).

      • Not really, the draw for the 2014 qualifying tournament helped small teams get games. The 2014 tournament was seeded such that all but 5 CONCACAF teams would get at least 6 games. There was only one round of home-and-away two-leg series in that tournament so pretty much everyone played in at least one group state. For the 2018 qualifying tournament odds are between a third and half of CONCACAF teams will only play 2 games and it is almost certain that over half of CONCACAF teams will play no more than 4 games.

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