The final matches of CONCACAF qualification for the 2022 World Cup are set to be played this March. And for the US Men’s National Team, there are still a lot of tricky obstacles to be navigated. The United States is currently second in the table (level with Mexico on 21 points), sitting four points behind Canada with three games each remaining.
If you weren’t aware of the structure of qualifying for the World Cup: CONCACAF has three automatic places up for grabs, which will be awarded to the teams finishing in the top three positions in the eight-team group. The team finishing in fourth position will play a mini-tournament in Qatar in June, facing off against three other teams from other confederations to win the final place at the World Cup (November 21 – December 18).
Canada looks nailed on to qualify
Anyway, at the moment, the betting would favor Canada to secure its place. The Canadians have been brilliant, which has come as a surprise to many pundits. However, like the United States, Canada has a new generation of exciting young players who ply their trade both in the MLS and Europe. Just one win in the final three games should be enough to secure a first World Cup appearance for Canada since 1986.
For the US and Mexico, however, things look a little trickier. Neither team will want to finish in fourth place, meaning they will have to navigate that playoff in June (where they could meet some strong teams). While they have a four-point advantage over Panama (currently in fourth position), things aren’t so straightforward. For a start, the US will play Mexico on March 24. The winner of that match will be in a strong position to secure automatic qualification. If there is a loser, then they will feel Panama breathing down their necks.
Big game in Mexico on March 24
In a hypothetical scenario (but not an improbable one), the US could lose to Mexico on March 24 (the Mexicans have home advantage), then face Panama in Orlando on March 27 in a crunch game where the Panamanians could leapfrog the US into that coveted third spot on the table. That would leave the Americans in a precarious position going into the final game against Costa Rica, who also have ambitions to qualify, on March 30. The game against Costa Rica is played in Costa Rica, and it’s never easy to win away from home in these games.
Moreover, you are going to have to factor in that the USMNT will be playing three games across six days in three different countries. Those types of travel arrangements can take quite the toll on players, and you can understand why head coach Gregg Berhalter would be worried about the performances of his players under those conditions. In addition, we shouldn’t forget that several key US players will travel from Europe to join up with the squad for the games – fatigue and jetlag could be real factors here.
Of course, the hope for fans of the US team is that they get their business done in Mexico in the first game and then sail through the rest. But things don’t always pan out that way. We saw in 2018 qualifying that there are no guarantees for the USMNT (they missed out on qualification), so this talented squad must not repeat the mistakes of the past. As a neutral, however, these last few games of the campaign feel like they could be an intriguing spectacle, like a mini-tournament in itself as the best teams from North America battle it out for a place in the big time next November.