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Concacaf to Postpone Start of Qualifiers to March 2021

by Bart Keeler

Concacaf was set to kick off a new format in October with its first window of Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2020. Today, it announced that the first matches in the cycle will be postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Concacaf Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will not start as scheduled in October or November due to concerns of the COVID-19 virus that is still rampant in Central America and the Caribbean. The first round of matches will be pushed back two windows, until March 2021.

First reported in English by Jon Arnold, citing a quote from El Salvador federation president Hugo Carrillo: “The dates for October have been suspended... The FIFA window for October has been suspended,” he stated last weekend after the national team reported a positive COVID-19 test.

Victor Montagliani, President of Concacaf, all but confirmed on FS1’s prematch coverage last Wednesday that “all likelihood October will not commence” and November is also in jeopardy. He will meet with FIFA this upcoming week to discuss plans.

Carillo stated that the Salvadorian Football Federation wished the November window also be canceled. This seemed to be the congruent sentiment throughout the region that is sti;;

Concacaf president Victor Montagliani made clear last week that although the start will be postponed until March 2021, the format is unlikely to change.

"What we are talking about with FIFA is where these dates that we lose would be and where would they go on the calendar in 2021-22. The format will not change," he said.

By pushing qualifiers back to March 2021, Concacaf would obviously alter its schedule for the rest of the qualifiers. Concacaf did not say when the final round would commence.

If teams cannot play all four matches in/by March 2021, Concacaf would push matches into the June 2021 window, which was when the Octagonal round was scheduled to start.

In order to finish qualifying by March 2022, teams will need additional match windows. Concacaf may be able to carve out a new match window in 2021, speculated for January 2021 or between the March and June 2021 windows but this would need FIFA approval.

Concacaf could push the end of qualifying past the March 2022 window, which would impact the World Cup draw, scheduled for the same month, and the intercontinental playoff.

How this will affect the USMNT

The U.S. men’s national soccer team is unlikely to start qualifiers in June 2021. Montagliani mentioned the Octagonal round may not start until September 2021. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter would then have to adapt his plans (which were very soft to begin with) for next summer, which included qualifiers in June, the Gold Cup in July and Olympics in August.

“These are extraordinary times, and we all need to continue to adjust,” Berhalter said in a statement through US Soccer. “We have established a strong group and we will deal with whatever comes our way.”

Rumors have swirled about the USMNT playing friendlies in the October and November windows this year but no US Soccer has not yet announced concrete plans.

It’s worth noting that UEFA started it’s second Nations League competition in this September 2020 window and some countries even allowed fans into the stands.

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