Saturday, May 21, 2022

USMNT qualifying scenarios: How USA can clinch 2022 World Cup spot, and why it will be easier in future years

The 2022 qualifying cycle might be the last one where USMNT fans need to sweat things out

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The United States men’s national team have two more World Cup qualifiers to seal their fate: the USMNT face Panama on Sunday at home and Costa Rica on Wednesday away. But for USMNT fans, these will likely be the final matches you have to worry about in terms of World Cup qualifying for the foreseeable future. 

After failing in shocking fashion to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. are on the verge of making it to Qatar (more on that below). A win on Sunday combined with Costa Rica dropping points at El Salvador (Sunday at 5:05 p.m. ET on Paramount+) will punch their ticket. So it will be either 90 minutes or 180 minutes left to really sweat it out for USMNT fans, but after that, it should be smooth sailing.

Here’s why.

  • First off, the World Cup following Qatar is in 2026, with the U.S. hosting alongside Mexico and Canada. The U.S. automatically qualifies as being a co-host, meaning they won’t need to go through qualifying matches to participate. 
  • But even after that tournament, there is likely nothing to worry about. The 2026 World Cup will be the first expanding to 48 teams. More teams in the cup means more team from each confederation qualifying, with Concacaf getting more than the three the group is guaranteed now. 
  • As approved by the FIFA Council back in 2017, Concacaf will go from three guaranteed spots to six, meaning there will be twice as many spots available for the U.S. to qualify from starting with the 2030 World Cup. 

That easier path, combined with the progression of the team’s golden generation, means worrying about qualifying should be a thing of the past. Not only is the U.S. in already one of the easiest qualifying zone, they now have more margin for error and would take something catastrophic to miss out on qualifying again.

That’s both good news and bad news for the U.S. While they have an easier path, the competitions may be watered down with an increase of 16 teams. Only time will tell, but the worries of qualification for years to come are likely over.

Concacaf World Cup qualifying table

Canada

12

7

4

1

+13

25

United States

12

6

4

2

+9

22

Mexico

12

6

4

2

+6

22

Costa Rica

12

5

4

3

+2

19

Panama

12

3

3

4

1

18

El Salvador – e

12

2

3

7

-7

10

Jamaica – e

12

1

5

6

-7

8

Honduras – e

12

4

8

-17

4

As for the short-term, here’s what the U.S. need to qualify on Sunday night.

USMNT World Cup qualifying scenarios vs. Panama

  • USMNT will qualify for the 2022 World Cup with a win vs. Panama and a Costa Rica loss or draw vs. El Salvador.
  • USMNT will clinch a top-four spot and at least a spot in an intercontinental playoff with a win or draw vs. Panama.
  • USMNT would essentially clinch a 2022 World Cup berth with a win vs. Panama. Even if Costa Rica also win Sunday vs. El Salvador, the USMNT should have a substantial lead in goal differential over Costa Rica (U.S. are +9 entering Sunday; Costa Rica are +2). The U.S. would not officially clinch a World Cup spot in this scenario, but it would be highly unlikely that they would get jumped by Costa Rica for third place on the final day of qualifying.

The USMNT close out World Cup qualifying Wednesday at Costa Rica (streaming on Paramount+). It remains to be seen how much will be at stake in that match.

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