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USMNT learns path for 2022 World Cup qualifying

Previews - FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 Photo by Mike Hewitt - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team received its schedule for its path to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after FIFA conducted a draw for Concacaf on Wednesday in Zurich, Switzerland.

The USA will enter qualifying in the Final Round in June 2021 in the Octagonal, with the top three teams receiving automatic bids to the World Cup and the fourth place team earning a spot in a home and away playoff against a country from another region.

While the 2022 World Cup will be the last to feature just 32 teams, the COVID-19 Pandemic has forced Concacaf away from the Hexagonal into the Octagonal, where each country plays 14 games in a home and away round robin.

The top five Concacaf teams in the July FIFA world rankings earned spots in the final round of qualifying. Andre Blake and Corey Burke’s Jamaica will join the USA, as well as Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras. The remaining three spots will be decided by two preliminary rounds of qualifying taking place from October 2020 March 2021.

While exact dates and times and some opponents are still TBA, the outline of the USA’s schedule is as follows:

The remaining 30 Concacaf teams are sorted into six groups of five teams that will play a round robin with two home games and two away games. The six group winners will narrow down to the final three in a home and away playoff.

Rising power Canada is a favorite to go through to the final round with a relatively tame Group B and Group E. Panama and Trinidad and Tobago competed in the Hexagonal in the last World Cup cycle with the former qualifying for Russia with a third place finish. If Trinidad and Tobago does in fact advance through both rounds, the USA would begin their road to Qatar where the road to the Russia ended: at Ato Bolton Stadium.

Before the USA gets started next June, head Coach Greg Berhalter will have two international friendly windows this fall as well as the Nations League finals in March to gain more data points on his squad. The USA will also host a Gold Cup between the first four games in June and the next two in September.

Alejandro Bedoya may not be in the picture at the age of 33, but with 66 senior caps he could receive a call over the course of a 14-game slog as long as he continues to turn in hard working shifts for the Union.

Brenden Aaronson may be in more of a fringe situation with just one cap and two call-ups to senior camp, but he fits the timeline of Berhalter’s emerging young European core – Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna, Weston McKinnie, and Sergino Dest, among others – and could find himself with a stage to build on his impressive summer. Mark McKenzie also received his first senior national team cap back in January.

The next matter of the business for the USSF is to determine the seven home venues for the Octagonal, with the venue choice of the anticipated October 2021 matchup against Mexico generating debate yet again:

While Philadelphia has always been more of a Gold Cup city than a World Cup Qualifying destination, Subaru Park has hosted three USMNT matches before and Lincoln Financial Field has already been penciled in as a 2026 World Cup host site. The USSF played all of its home matches in the Hex ahead of 2018 at soccer-specific venues, but how fans will factor into the entire qualifying equation remains to be seen.

Let us know what you think of Bedoya, Aaronson, McKenzie and the USA’s chances of returning to soccer’s ultimate stage in the comments.