CONCACAF just made it easier for the USMNT to qualify for the World Cup

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 30: Christian Pulisic #10 of the United States gets a side slap from Michael Bradley #4 of the United States after Pulisic gave the assist to Weston Mckennie #8 of the United States for the only goal of the match during the CONCACAF GOLD CUP Quarterfinal match of USA v Curacao at Lincoln Financial Field on June 30 2019 in Philadelphia, PA,, USA.  The United States won the match with a score of 1 to 0. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)
Michael Bradley (right), Christian Pulisic and the USMNT figure to have an easier time making the World Cup now. (Getty)

While the United States women’s national team celebrated another victory at the World Cup, the men suddenly found it easier to reach theirs.

CONCACAF announced a revamp in its World Cup qualifying format, which should benefit the USMNT.

What are the changes? Primarily, the qualifying process will be split into two separate competitions, a hexagonal and a knockout phase. In cycles past, the hexagonal, or “Hex”, represented the final stage of qualifying with six teams playing a double round-robin to determine World Cup berths.

Only now, those six teams won’t have to play their way in. Instead, the Hex will be determined through the FIFA rankings published after the June 2020 window. In other words, the top six ranked teams from CONCACAF will just qualify automatically. From there, the top three finishers earn World Cup berths, and the fourth is still alive for another. We’ll get to that in a second.

So what do the rest of the teams in CONCACAF do? The teams ranked Nos. 7 through 35 will take part in the knockout phase, which will divide them into eight groups and pit the winners of each group against each other in a tournament, which will feature a two-leg elimination format.

The winner of this knockout competition will face the fourth-place finisher from the Hex, and then that winner will go to an inter-continental playoff to determine the 2022 World Cup berth, which has been a feature of cycles past as well.

Got all that?

Here’s the brass tacks for the USMNT. The FIFA rankings are determined through a complicated and frequently criticized point system, but the USMNT is basically always among the top six CONCACAF teams. In the most recent rankings, it’s 30th in the world and second only to Mexico in the region, and would need to fall 46 spots to miss out on the Hex. So even given the hideous failure of the 2018 qualifying cycle, the USMNT isn’t missing this upcoming Hex.

As pointed out by the good folks over at Total Soccer Show, instead of playing regional minnows in an effort to qualify for the Hex, the USMNT can now schedule better opposition in friendlies during international windows. They also won’t risk elimination at earlier stages of qualifying, although they’ve never failed to make the Hex anyway.

Even after a solid Gold Cup, the USMNT can’t strut around like World Cup qualification is a sure thing. But this news from CONCACAF sure doesn’t hurt.

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