The United States begins 2018 World Cup qualifying in November, and while that is still four months away, they find out their path through their first round of qualifying on Saturday at FIFA's preliminary draw. The team will find out their opposition, as well as the dates for their home and away matches for the round, which will be drawn at random.
The Americans are entering qualifying in the fourth round of qualifying, an advantage given to CONCACAF's six highest ranked teams. The round will see 12 teams split into three groups of four. Each team will play the other three teams in their group home and away, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the final round of qualifying and the other two teams seeing their World Cup dreams die.
As one of the confederation's top three ranked teams, the U.S. has been seeded for the draw, so they cannot be drawn into the same group as fellow seeded teams Mexico and Costa Rica. They will get one of Honduras, Panama or Trinidad and Tobago, as well as two of the teams that advance from the third round. Because the third round won't be played until August, the Americans won't know exactly who the other teams in their group are, but the third round is two-legged ties and they will know which ties their opponents will come from.
In addition to who the U.S. will play, the draw will also determine who they play on which dates and which dates they are at home and which dates they are away.
The dates for the fourth round of qualifying are as follows:
- November 13 and 17, 2015
- March 25 and 29, 2016
- September 2 and 6, 2016
The U.S. will be home for one match each month and away for the other.
Many American fans overlook the third round of qualifying, seeing it as more of a cakewalk then meaningful competition. The team's shocking Gold Cup exit may change that, though, and it's worth pointing out that last qualifying cycle, the U.S. needed a result in their final match of the round to avoid being eliminated before the Hex so it is not a given that the Americans will advance.
Ideally, the U.S. group would look something like Honduras, Nicaragua and Curacao. But it could be as tough as Panama, Jamaica and Canada. This draw, and the impending third round, will tell us just how the team's fourth round looks.
The draw gets underway at 10:55 a.m. ET and will be televised live on Fox Sports 1.
There will be another draw for the final round of qualifying after the fourth round is over to determine the schedule and home and away dates. The final round of qualifying will consist of six teams, all of whom play home and away from November 2016 through October 2017. The top three teams will go to the World Cup, while the fourth place team will go to an inter-confederation playoff for the final spot in Russia.