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Concacaf’s qualifying schedule could not have been more favorable for the USMNT

Even if Concacaf had granted U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter the wish of laying out his team’s World Cup qualifying schedule any way he wanted, Berhalter’s selections could not have been much different than the schedule the Americans were assigned on Wednesday.

An early schedule featuring the lower-ranked opponents in the field and a back-loaded schedule where the team’s toughest road trips don’t take place until later in the round is a dream scenario for a USMNT squad bringing along a talented but inexperienced generation of players into what will be for many players their first World Cup qualifying cycle.

The Americans received the most favorable draw in the group when you consider they won’t have to face either Costa Rica or Mexico until the sixth matchday, and those two Concacaf powers will face off in Costa Rica in the second match of the final qualifying round. The Ticos and El Tri will also each face a touch Jamaica side in the first three matchdays while the Americans won’t face the Reggae Boyz until a home game on the fourth matchday, and don’t travel to Jamaica until the eighth matchday, in October of 2021.

The USMNT’s schedule is far more favorable than the schedule it faced in the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle, which saw the Americans begin the final round with matches against Mexico at home, and at Costa Rica. The United States lost both those matches, leading to Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing as head coach and setting the USMNT on a path leading to its first failed World Cup qualifying campaign since 1985.

Berhalter did his best to downplay the benefits of the schedule, stating repeatedly that all qualifiers are difficult, but he acknowledged that it is to the USMNT’s benefit not to have to travel to Mexico or Costa Rica until 2022.

“You have 11 games before that to get the group used to playing in these qualifying games and then you have two of the harder opponents away from home towards the end,” Berhalter said. “I think that’s certainly a way to look at it. Another way to look at it is if you can take care of all your business beforehand you can be in a very good position going into those games.”

The Americans have a wealth of young talent in the pipeline featuring several players 23 and under who should be important parts of Berhalter’s plans. Players such as Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna, Sergino Dest, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Zack Steffen are all leading candidates for starting roles, and none have played in World Cup qualifying before.

All those players, with the exception of Reyna, have experienced playing in official competitions, be it Gold Cups or Nations League, but the unique challenges of Concacaf qualifying make for notoriously tricky tests, even against lower-ranked competition.

The possibility of the USMNT’s opening qualifier being in Trinidad & Tobago, where the Americans saw their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign die, will make for a very intriguing subplot, but the current crop of young American talents have faced Trinidad & Tobago recently, having pummeled the Soca Warriors 6-0 in the 2019 Gold Cup.

“The potential to play Trinidad in that first game away from home is a nice storyline, but we’re focused on things much bigger than just that game,” Berhalter said. “For us it’s the total package of trying to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

“Every game is pressure. You have a lot of pressure to win your home games because that’s historically where you pick up the most points,” Berhalter said. “We’ll take every game and we’ll put all we got into each and every game and hopefully towards the end we’ll be in a good position to qualify.”

A potential second qualifying match at home against Canada would provide a good test as well, but the Americans already avenged their Nations League loss to Canada in October of 2019 with a resounding 4-1 win last November in Orlando.

As for the USMNT’s return trip to Canada for its first match north of the border since its ugly Nations League loss in October of 2019? That trip doesn’t take place until the 10th matchday, in November of 2011.

To be clear, the new Concacaf World Cup qualifying format has some challenges, starting with what will be a grueling stretch of four qualifiers in June of 2021. Berhalter’s younger stars will be faced with the rigors of hopping back and forth across the Concacaf region, but their opponents will be facing the same challenges in that opening month, and fellow regional powers Mexico and Costa Rica will be doing so against much tougher competition.

The Americans will be hoping for a fast start to qualifying, and comfortable booking of a place in Qatar for 2022, much like the comfortable qualifying campaigns the Americans enjoyed in 2005 and 2009 under Bob Bradley, when the USMNT qualified for the World Cup with games to spare.

In the past, an early qualification meant being able to use the final qualifiers to call-up prospects and rest some key players, but given the fact the final round of Concacaf qualifying will spill over into 2022, the same year as the World Cup, meaning even if the Americans qualify early, there will be an incentive to still deploy the strongest possible team in order to give the group more experience against top competition.

                                                                                                   Photo by Roy K. Miller/ ISI Photos








“It’s certainly something to consider,” Berhalter said. “As we get into 2022 there’s going to be limited opportunities to play difficult games. But when you think about Mexico and Costa Rica away, those are certainly difficult games so another opportunity for this group to test itself and push itself as you move toward the World Cup.”

First thing’s first, the Americans need to qualify, and as favorable as the schedule may have fallen for the USMNT, Berhalter’s team will still need to perform and avoid a slow start like the one that doomed the Americans in the previous cycle. If the last Concacaf World Cup qualifying cycle taught the Americans anything, it’s that nothing can be taken for granted.


  1. I think that looks like a very rough close out and we’d better have it sorted already by then. Bearing in mind last time we couldn’t beat the last place team away needing the result. I also think that given that GB is in charge, the malfunctioning system, the mixed messages of how GC and NL went, even the “easy” stuff cannot be taken for granted. At “Ocho” level “easy” will be a team roughly Canada’s level. If we expect to qualify we will need better than split the points home and away with the back end of the group — which FWIW is precisely what we did with Trinidad last time. I think with a better coach with a roster further churned than this towards the young talent, this would be a friendly schedule. I think with this coach he’s going to have to show he’s more the “Gold Cup” coach who could handle anyone save Mexico, than that he’s the “Nations League” guy who barely escaped that group. And personally I think NL with home and away is more like qualification; GC is a tournament of home games.

  2. Semi-related, but is it fair to say the following?
    There will be a ~4 month period next March-July during which the USMNT contests (1) the Nations League semis/finals (2) Four World Cup qualifying matches, (3) A Gold Cup, and (4) an Olympic tournament + qualifying, The calendar released today seems to intentionally accommodate all of the above, and there has been no talk of cancellation . Pretty insane stuff. Berhalter & Co will need to think about how to manage this and prioritize depth. WCQ comes first, but there is value in all of these competitions, particularly if WC becomes a prize.
    In any event, this seems pretty orgasmic to any malnourished soccer fan (and that’s before you consider the Euro and Copa America that will be taking place during this window). If all proceeds as currently schedule, It wiill be an absurd few months.

    • The US has enough depth now that we can put a decent team of mostly MLS players on the field and a very good team of European players on the field, at the same time if necessary. For example, MLS players could include Jozy and Zardes as attackers, Morris on one wing, Arreola on the other, midfielders like Pomykal, Aronson, and Yueil, defenders like Cannon, Zimmerman. And you could supplement them with lesser European players like Ream, Green, Morales, Erik Palmer Brown, and Alvarado from Mexico. I’m sure I’m missing some decent players, but the point is that this would probably be good enough to compete with the lesser CONCACAF teams and/or competitions while keeping the top players fresh for the good teams or for the more important competitions.

      • Which more important competitions? What’s more important than qualifying for a World Cup? That’s what we’re talking about here isn’t it? What the?

      • Mal-
        I agree. The sole focus should be on composing a team best suited to secure qualifying. Everything else is supposedly designed to feed the senior team. I know we are like obsessed with Olympics but that problem has more to do with how many players we “graduate” out of U23 or cannot get in because the club refuses, than it does talent. With 100 balls in the air and Quali being the one that matters, everything else should give way. I even think if a young player eligible for the Olympics is worth a shot, he should be at Gold Cup instead. The Olympics this time — even assuming we qualify — should be where we send the players we DON’T THINK COULD POSSIBLY HELP THE SENIORS THIS CYCLE. Otherwise after 4 qualifying games in June, with more in September, and the Euro leagues opening camps, our smart play will be leave the A team out of Gold Cup to rest, and LIKE WE USED TO DO WHEN WE HAD A BRAIN, use Gold Cup to learn about the rest of the pool. But at some point we became obsessed with winning every fixture to the point of self defeating conservatism. You rely on the veterans to try to win even though the veterans don’t actually win that much. It’s all rather shallow and silly.

    • you’re leaving out we may also have U20 worlds as well. which might impact who goes where as well. since we are already qualified for the Ocho my thoughts were experiment through the theoretical Japan/Korea friendlies, as well as the NL final, then flip over to the A team for June quali, then back to experiments for GC to rest the starters, then back to A team for fall. since we’re trying hard to qualify and that matters more than U20 or olympics, if a player could be eligible for both he goes with the senior team. if we have to send a subpar B team to youth tournaments so be it. i’d rather see those guys in quali or at least getting friendlies or GC.
      in terms of what i expect from GB, he will maybe try a handful of players in march, and then it will be all business the rest of the year, and U23 people we think could help will instead be on the Olympic track, and in as crowded a schedule as this, that may end their chance at breaking in during qualifying.
      to me if we run out the same set of guys who could barely escape Cuba and Canada we didn’t learn Klinsmann’s lesson when his team struggled in tournaments then barely made it out of the semi quali. to me this schedule is going to be unrelenting and the team needs help and windows to look at new options need to be well spent.

    • Mal and IV, I think Gary is talking about depth in WC qualifying, four matches in June will require squad rotation. 3G has said WCQ is first importance, then Olympics over the GC. You can make an argument there either way. I guess I fall in the they’ll gain more playing Argentina U23s than Guyana. IV from what Gregg has said I don’t think you’ll have many if any that play more than one competition next Summer. It’s just too much during what either be an MLSers season or a Euros vacation.

  3. Certainly agree. This is tailor-made… assuming we get it done in the first six matches (June to Sept 2021), all of which are winnable, there is a scenario where we can start looking toward Qatar before 2022 even starts. Obviously this is arrogant, but it’s on the table for the taking. Who wants to be playing for our lives on the final matchday, away to Costa Rica?


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