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Breaking down the USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule

We look at the USMNT’s road to Qatar.

SOCCER: OCT 06 USA v Panama Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team learned their road to Qatar earlier today when Concacaf held their draw for 2022 World Cup qualifying in Zurich. The USMNT now knows when they will play each of the 8 teams in “The Ocho” or “The Octagon” to try and accumulate enough points to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

The final 3 teams will be determined through the First and Second rounds of qualifying for Concacaf, and they will join the USMNT, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras. Let’s break down the schedule and what these matches could mean for the USMNT’s chances to qualify.

May 31-Jun 15, 2021 - Windows 1 & 2

USA @ A/F Winner

USA vs. B/E Winner

USA @ Honduras

USA vs. Jamaica

The USMNT begin World Cup qualifying on the road, and it’s possible they could head to either El Salvador or Trinidad and Tobago. The obvious storylines are present if it’s the latter, but the USMNT will want to begin on a positive note. Montserrat or Guyana could play spoiler in the First and Second Rounds and if they do, the road trip for the USMNT gets a bit trickier from a logistics standpoint.

Their first home match of qualifying could be against the neighbors to the north, Canada, in Matchday 2. Haiti is also a team that could figure out a way to land in The Ocho if they can win Group E and get past Canada or whoever upsets them to win Group B. The USMNT will then turn right around and go down to San Pedro Sula to face Honduras in Matchday 3, normally a pretty difficult place to play. After that match, the USMNT will return home to face Jamaica in a formidable match.

The USMNT will want to end the first two windows with at least 9 points, and that should be attainable. As we learned in the last qualifying cycle, we can’t squander points that are there for the taking, and each of the 12 points in the first two windows would be great to put the USMNT in good standing with more than 25% of the available points contested.

Aug 30-Sep 7, 2021 - Window 3

USA @ C/D Winner

USA vs. Costa Rica

The USMNT continue their quest with two matches during Labor Day weekend. First, they will travel to either the Group C or Group D winner, which could mean Curaçao, Panama, or Guatemala. Other fun teams like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados or Cuba likely have a tall task of being the team that sneaks into The Octagon. The USMNT would follow that road trip up with a match at home against Costa Rica in their first real test in the Final Stage of qualifying. The USMNT should do what it can to get 3 points at the C/D winner, leaving themselves to try and take care of business at home against the Ticos.

Oct 4-12, 2021 - Window 4

USA vs. Mexico

USA @ Jamaica

Here we go. This is the one. For possibly the last time for the foreseeable future, the USMNT will host Mexico in the October 2021 window. Whether we see that match return to Columbus or move elsewhere, it’s the biggest home match by far in qualifying. Last time, Mexico finally won at Mapfre Stadium by a 2-1 score, so this match will have huge implications. Halfway through qualifying, the USMNT will want to set themselves up to have a chance at direct qualification in Window 6.

After the big home match, there’s no rest for the USMNT. They will travel to Kingston to play Jamaica at The Office. They’ve lost there before in World Cup qualifying, and they’ll want to escape with a result against a much improved Reggae Boyz side.

Nov 8-16, 2021 - Window 5

USA vs. A/F Winner

USA @ B/E Winner

Window 5 will have the USMNT hosting the A/F winner and then traveling to the B/E winner. Once again, they’re going to want to have both of these matches locked in. They will want a chance to clinch qualification either here or in Window 6. The USMNT need to get the wins in the games where those wins are manageable, and doing it in November means they can give themselves a chance.

Jan 24-Feb 1, 2022 - Window 6

USA vs. Honduras

USA @ Mexico

If the USMNT plays their cards right, they can walk into that home match against Honduras with a chance to clinch World Cup qualification. Can they get the 3 points that will be necessary? Also, a big question will be where that match will be, because after it looms the much anticipated return to Estadio Azteca to face Mexico. It’s a good time of year to head to Azteca. January usually has mild temperatures and great air quality, two things that, combined with the altitude, has really hampered USMNT performances in the past. Can the team get the first World Cup qualifying win in what could be their final qualifying trip there for long time and have that to hold over them for years to come? We should not count on a victory at Azteca, but we should also hope that a win here isn’t vital for qualification efforts.

Mar 21-29, 2022 - Window 7

USA vs. C/D Winner

USA @ Costa Rica

The last window in March 2022 will see the USMNT host the C/D winner. No question, you need these 3 points. If qualification is in peril entering the final window, then you have to secure the home win because the final match is a doozy: away at Costa Rica. We’ve never won in Costa Rica, and it’s a tall task to ask a team to qualify for the World Cup by winning there on the last matchday. It should really be a party because we’ve already qualified for the World Cup, but if we’re in a position where it’s win or else, that’s not the match to have on the schedule.

There’s a long time before even the start of World Cup qualifying, much less the end. The next 10 months will be a chance for the USMNT to start figuring out which players it will rely on, emerging from the coronavirus pandemic so that it’s safe to have these matches again, and then building the momentum they will need. Because come next June, there’s no turning back.