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FIFA WORLD CUP

How many games does USA still need to win to qualify for the 2022 World Cup?

The USMNT has recovered from two draws in CONCACAF qualifying to win two on the bounce and move to the top of the World Cup 2022 Octagonal group.

Update:
United States forward Ricardo Pepi (16) celebrates his goal against Jamaica with teammates Paul Arriola (7) and Antonee Robinson (5) during the second half of a FIFA World Cup Qualifier at Q2 Stadium.
Chuck BurtonUSA TODAY Sports

Two of the favourites for qualification from the CONCACAF third round – USA and Mexico - currently occupy the top two places in the eight-team group after four matchdays. The USMNT and Mexico are level on eight points with Canada third on six and the top three sides qualifying automatically for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Although there are 10 games remaining in the Octagonal and Honduras, El Salvador and Panama have all taken points from the current top three, few would bet against the top two in the group remaining the same when the dust settles on the mini-tournament in March 2022.

There are potentially four places up for grabs from the CONCACAF region and who will go through to the finals in Qatar is wide open. In 2018, the USMNT failed to reach the World Cup in Russia after losing in the Hexagonal to Trinidad and Tobago, a result that even left the traditional regional powerhouse out of the inter-confederation playoff, which Honduras lost to Australia. It was the first time since 1986 that the USA had failed to qualify for the World Cup finals and evidence that the CONCACAF route is no longer a foregone conclusion. Canada did not receive a bye to the third round this time around, obliging Les Rouges to go through the second round of qualifying as the seventh-highest ranked team in the region based on the FIFA World Rankings behind El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Costa Rica, the USA and Mexico.

Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama went through to Russia 2018 and The United States, Costa Rica, and Honduras qualified for the 2014 World Cup, later to be joined by Mexico after an inter-confederation triumph over New Zealand. In 2010, Honduras joined the USA and Mexico as automatic qualifiers, with Cosa Rica losing out to Uruguay in a CONMEBOL-CONCACAF playoff. Canada have only reached one World Cup in the country’s history; the 1986 finals in Mexico.

What do CONCACAF sides need to reach the World Cup?

The top three sides in the CONCACAF group automatically qualify for the World Cup. The fourth-placed nation will go into the draw for the inter-confederation playoffs, which is a four-team shoot-out for the final two places at the 2022 World Cup. The games are two-legged ties, home and away, with the winner earning qualification for the finals. As well as the CONCACAF representative, there will be one country each from CONMEBOL, AFC and OFC.

How many games do the USA need to win to qualify directly?

With four games played and 10 remaining there are still 30 points on the table so it’s a little early to suggest any one side is in the driving seat. However, the USA and Canada have already played one of their fixtures, a 1-1 draw in Nashville last month, leaving three direct matches between the USA and their current main rivals.

The USMNT face Mexico in Cincinnati on matchday 7 with the return fixture set for March 24, 2022, on matchday 12. Were they to take six points from Panama and Costa Rica in their next two matches and then beat Mexico on November 12, assuming Mexico match the USA’s results between now and then, the USMNT would be three points clear of Mexico, six ahead of Panama and eight clear of Costa Rica.

The USMNT could then potentially place some daylight between themselves and El Salvador with a home win on January 22, before travelling to Canada a week later for the second fixture against Les Rouges. If they were to win every game between now and then – the USA travel to Jamaica on matchday 8 – they will have amassed a total of 26 points after 10 games.

In 2018 qualifying, Mexico topped the group with 21 points from 10 games, at a rate of 2.1 points per game. In the expanded 14-game format that rate of scoring would give the USA some room for maneuver to drop a few points.

If that were to be the scenario by matchday 10, and given the USA would have taken points from direct rivals Mexico, Canada, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama, Gregg Berhalter’s side would be in a very comfortable position and possibly already qualified, depending on results elsewhere. However, given the likelihood of the USA winning all of their next six games against such seasoned opposition, all eyes will doubtless be on the second head-to-head against Mexico in matchday 12, which could prove to be decisive for one or both sides.

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