3 Important Match Windows for the USMNT During World Cup Qualifiers
by Bart Keeler
(photo courtesy of Orlando City SC)
Fans of the U.S. men’s national team have been waiting four years for a chance to watch their team reclaim a spot in the FIFA World Cup. On Wednesday, the USMNT saw its road to redemption unfold. The 14 matches over seven two-match windows filled with each ball selected.
Immediately after the rush that came with the draw for the Concacaf Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, anxiety set in. For good reason, USMNT fans probably experienced some traumatic flashbacks to matches that did their team in the previous World Cup qualifying cycle.
Concacaf Qualifiers aren’t meant to be easy. If the USMNT want to qualify for Qatar 2022, it will need to maximize opportunities in these three match windows.
1. June 2021
There will be four Concacaf Qualifiers played in June 2021. With matches against the two lowest-ranked auto-qualifiers and two playoff winners, the opening month of the campaign is the best window for the USMNT to pick up maximum points.
The first two matches of the 2022 World Cup qualification campaign are against playoff winners. Whoever comes out of the Group A/F playoff match will present a tough road trip for sure, but likely one of the easier away games in the cycle. The Yanks turn around and host the winner of the Grop B/E playoff, which should be three points in the bag.
An easy start—nothing is easy, but these teams will be some of the lowest-ranked opponents in the Octagon—is followed by a trip to enigmatic Honduras. The USMNT has won in Honduras three times in World Cup Qualifying but not since the 2010 cycle. This could be a team-building experience for Gregg Berhalter’s young team.
June closes out with a home game against Jamaica. Since 2011, the USMNT is 7-0-3, including two losses on U.S. soil. Home wins are vital in qualifying, but a win over Jamaica at home and the USMNT should end June with a lot of points in the bank.
Optimistically, the U.S. could end this month with 10 points. Realistically, 8 points would be a great start on the journey to Qatar 2022. Anything less may be signs of trouble.
2. March 2022
The final match window is a scary one for the USMNT. Actually, the final fixture is frightening: away to Costa Rica. The Yanks are 6-3-10 all-time against Los Ticos in qualifiers, earning only a single point down there. This match may be the bridge to Qatar for both teams, who have grown to dislike each other immensely in recent years. The likelihood of a positive result is… minuscule. In fact, it’s happened once in 10 tries. The USMNT needs to do everything they can to not be in a win-or-stay-home situation in San Jose on the last matchday.
That’s where the first match in the March 2021 window comes in. The USMNT will host the Group C/D winner, which will be a team that has never threatened them at home. Whether it’s Panama, Guatemala, Curaçao or another team, the U.S. has no reason to not beat them at home. Three points in this match could either punch the Yanks’ tickets to Qatar or at least make the job in Costa Rica less daunting.
3. September 2021–October 2021
I’m cheating a bit here and combing two windows. The USMNT has back-to-back home matches in this stretch: Costa Rica on the second matchday in September and Mexico on the first matchday in October. This pair of matches is likely the most important of the qualifying campaign.
In the 2018 qualification cycle, the U.S. lost both home matches to these teams (3-2 to Mexico and 2-0 to Costa Rica). As much as USMNT fans want to wonder about the shoulda-coulda-wouldas of the final match against Trinidad, these two home losses were what kept the team from heading to Russa 2018.
The Yanks cannot afford losses to the two other favorites in the Octagon this go-around. They neither give these rivals an extra three points nor drop points at home.
Yes, there are more home matches this cycle to make up for dropped points, but with each team playing seven home matches, everyone will have equal chances for wins at home. Furthermore, the U.S. doesn’t want to leave too much work to do with trips to Mexico and Cosa Rica late in the campaign.
Every match in qualifying is important. Winning home matches is essential to qualification. These windows will test the USMNT’s fortitude and team chemistry and failing to stockpile points in June 2021, losing to Costa Rica or Mexico at home, and needing a win on the final matchday would leave us having painful conversations while watching 2022 World Cup at home… again.