CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup will kick off on January 15, when the confederation holds its first draw. Qualifying will run through the end of 2017, so it is a long road, but it begins now.
The preliminary draw will only set the match-ups for the home-and-away ties of the first two legs. The United States is not involved at that stage so they will not be drawn.
All of World Cup qualifying is seeded by the FIFA rankings. The bottom 14 teams in CONCACAF begin in the first round. The winners then join the teams ranked nine through 21 in the second round. That is what will be drawn on January 15.
The third round will feature the 10 second round winners and Jamaica and Haiti, who are ranked seventh and eighth.
Finally, the United States and the rest of the top six seeded teams join in the fourth round. That means Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago come into the fold. The fourth round goes away from two-legged ties and introduces the group stage format. The 12 teams will be split into three groups of four, and the two top teams in those groups will advance to the final round of qualifying.
The final round of qualifying is a six-team group, with each team playing home-and-away against the other five. The top three teams qualify for the World Cup, while fourth place goes to a playoff.
The draw for the third, fourth and fifth rounds of qualifying will be conducted on July 25 in St. Petersburg, Russia, where FIFA will conduct draws for qualifying around the world. But the start of qualifying is now, even if the U.S. isn't in it yet.