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Concacaf Announces New Format, First-Ever Draw for 2021 Gold Cup

(photo credit: Concacaf)

by Bart Keeler

Several changes are coming for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup. For starters, the tournament will increase from 12 to 16 teams. Four of those additional teams will be determined by a preliminary round before the main group stage of the tournament. The 16th team is AFC Asian Cup Champion Qatar.

The knockout round will remain the same, with eight teams qualifying.

Concacaf is touting that for the first time ever, will conduct a live draw to determine the preliminary and group phases. On September 28, 2020, ping pong balls will swirl as to fill the preliminary round matchups and group stage allotments.

The tournament is set to begin on July 10, 2021, with 12 teams qualifying directly from their performance in the maiden Concacaf Nations League. Canada, Costa Rica, Curacao, El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Suriname and USA will be joined by Qatar in the group stage.

In the preliminary round, played July 2–6 in one U.S. location, 12 teams will play knockout matches to whittle down to three finalists; three separate brackets of four teams. The that qualified through their 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League performances are: Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cuba, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.

Qatar will compete in both the 2021 and 2023 Gold Cups in a partnership with Concacaf. The nation will be the first Arab nation to host a World Cup in 2022.

The U.S. will host the tournament next summer, as it has each of the 15 previous iterations of the Gold Cup. Exact host cities and stadiums have yet to be determined. After lost revenue in 2020, hosting the Gold Cup could be an income boost, so expect most large venues to apply.

What does this mean for the USMNT?

As what seems to be Concacaf protocol, seeds for groups will likely be determined by either FIFA rankings or by Concacaf Nations League performance. The USA, Mexico and Costa Rica will undoubtedly be given seeds in three of the four groups. Either Honduras, based on winning their CNL group, or Jamaica, as the fourth-highest ranked team in Concacaf, will be the other seed. It’s possible Qatar would be the other seeded team as a courtesy to the visitors. None of this has been confirmed by Concacaf.

The USMNT has rarely struggled to win their Gold Cup group and the difficulty will likely decrease as only five of the non-seeded teams are ranked inside the top 100 of the most recent FIFA World Rankings.

Again, the USMNT will play in front of home crowds as the tournament hosts. In 2019, the Yanks, under first-year manager Gregg Berhalter, finished as runners-up to Mexico, losing 1-0 in the final.

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