The United States men’s national team could kick off CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament for the 2022 World Cup in the same country where its 28-year streak of appearances in the competition came crashing to a halt ahead of Russia 2018: Trinidad and Tobago.
CONCACAF, soccer’s governing body in North and Central America and the Caribbean, held its draw for the first and final rounds of World Cup qualifying Wednesday at FIFA headquarters in Zurich. The USMNT learned that it would face the winner of a playoff between the Group A and Group F winners — which will most likely be El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago — when the final eight-nation round of qualifying, dubbed the “Octagonal”, kicks off in June 2021.
The Americans famously lost to already-eliminated T&T in October 2017, needing only a tie to make the cut for 2018, which would’ve marked their eighth consecutive World Cup berth. It was the first time since 1986 they failed to qualify for a World Cup.
“Certainly the potential to play Trinidad in the first game, away from home, is a nice storyline,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, hired a year after the 2018 qualifying debacle, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “But we’re focused on things much bigger than just that game. For us, it’s the total package of trying to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.”
Ironically, the tiny twin-island Caribbean nation was also the place where the USMNT’s run of World Cup appearances began, when a goal by Paul Caligiuri, which became known as “the shot heard ‘round the world”, clinched a spot at the 1990 event in Italy, the United States’ first World Cup berth in 40 years.
After the opener away from home next June, the Americans will host a to-be-determined team before traveling to Honduras. Berhalter’s team will meet chief rival Mexico in October of 2021 and in January of 2022. The U.S. will close out the final round — from which the top three finishers will automatically advance to Qatar — with a trip to Costa Rica, where it has never won in World Cup qualifying play.
Here is the complete schedule, in graphic form:
Our path is set! Here's the 🇺🇸's slate of games for 2022 @FIFAWorldCup Qualifying.— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) August 19, 2020
More info on our schedule and things like "What does A/F Winner mean?": https://t.co/47wwEQ8x5k pic.twitter.com/S8ZXiAEVHX
Whatever team the U.S. faces first, picking up points on the road will be imperative — especially with two of its last three games at Costa Rica and Mexico. The Americans didn’t win a single away game in the final round last time out.
“Just to start the campaign away from home is enough. It gives us the opportunity right away to set the mark and say ‘we’re going to be good on the road.’ That’s certainly something we’ve talked about.”
Still, star attacker Christian Pulisic admitted that beginning the 2022 qualifying cycle against T&T would be more than just another game.
“We know what happened there last time around,” said Pulisic, who scored the lone U.S. goal in that 2-1 loss in the coastal town of Couva almost three years ago.
“It would be an opportunity for us to start really strong right away and obviously get some revenge there as well.”
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