The United States men’s national soccer team will begin their path to the FIFA World Cup with a qualifying match tonight against St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
To help give you a better understanding of what it takes to qualify, I went to the official US Soccer website. Here is a great break down and understanding of the tournament.
Since the 1998 World Cup Qualifying cycle, the MNT’s path to one of CONCACAF’s berths at the FIFA World Cup has been a long and winding road. Nowadays, in order for the MNT to qualify for the World Cup, it’ll have to go through at least 16 matches against CONCACAF opponents over the course of nearly two years.
Qualifying Format and Dates
After 29 CONCACAF nations played through three preliminary qualification rounds which began late last March, the MNT enters World Cup Qualifying as one of 12 teams spread across three Semifinal Round groups:
|Group A||Group B||Group C|
|El Salvador||Haiti||St. Vincent and the Grenadines|
|Honduras||Jamaica||Trinidad & Tobago|
All 12 teams kickoff the Semifinal Round on Friday, Nov. 13, playing home and away, round-robin matches against each group opponent, which will culminate in early September 2016. The schedule for Group C is as follows:
|Matchday||Game 1||Game 2|
|Nov. 13, 2015||USA vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines||Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago|
|Nov. 17, 2015||Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA||St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Guatemala|
|March 25, 2016||Guatemala vs. USA||St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Trinidad & Tobago|
|March 29, 2016||USA vs. Guatemala||Trinidad & Tobago vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines|
|Sept. 2, 2016||St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. USA||Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guatemala|
|Sept. 6, 2016||USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago||Guatemala vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines|
The top two teams from each Semifinal group advance to the Final Round of World Cup Qualifying, known as the Hexagonal, or “The Hex,” which begins in November 2016 and ends in September 2017. Like the Semifinal Round, The Hex is another home and away, round-robin format, at the end of which, the top three teams in the group will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The schedule for “The Hex”:
|Matchday 1 and 2||Nov. 7-15, 2016|
|Matchday 3 and 4||March 20-28, 2017|
|Matchday 5 and 6||June 5-13, 2017|
|Matchday 7 and 8||Aug. 28-Sept. 5, 2017|
|Matchday 9 and 10||Oct. 2-10, 2017|
The fourth place team in The Hex goes to a home-and-away playoff with the Asian Football Confederation’s fifth place qualifying finisher to determine one of the final spots in Russia. The two-leg playoff will be played between Nov. 6-14, 2017.
While the MNT gets to host half of its World Cup Qualifying matches each cycle, its other half is played at challenging road venues throughout the CONCACAF region. Altitude, heat, humidity, field conditions and even smog all play a part along with intense atmospheres in road venues where fans are intent on making things as difficult as possible on the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Simply put, winning away in CONCACAF World Cup qualification is never easy. Since the 1998 qualifying campaign, the record for away teams in the Semifinal and Final Rounds comes to 75-184-71 overall. The U.S. is the only CONCACAF nation with a winning away record in CONCACAF Semifinal and Final Round qualifying during that span, going 14-12-14, while rivals Mexico are the only other nation not to have a losing away record, going 14-14-12 since 1998.