US could open WCup qualifying in Trinidad, site of ’17 loss

NEW YORK (AP) — The United States will open qualifying for the 2022 World Cup on the road next June, possibly back in Trinidad and Tobago where it was eliminated from reaching the 2018 tournament.

The Americans will close their 14-match round in March 2022 at Costa Rica, where they have lost seven straight qualifiers.

The U.S. qualified for seven straight World Cups before missing the 2018 tournament. The Americans are among five nations with direct berths in the final round of qualifying — known as the octagonal — joined by Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Jamaica.

A much transformed team is headed by star midfielder Christian Pulisic and could include goalkeeper Zack Steffen, defender Sergiño Dest, midfielders Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna, and forward Josh Sargent.

The top three nations in the octagonal qualify for the 32-team tournament in Qatar that starts Nov. 21, 2022, the first World Cup shifted from its traditional late May-June start in an accommodation to the region’s summer heat. The fourth-place team advances to a two-leg intercontinental playoff in June 2022.

In a draw held Wednesday at FIFA’s office in Zurich, the U.S. was picked out of a bowl to open at the winner of the playoff between teams from Groups A and F, whose seeded nations are El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. The opener will be around June 3, and the Americans will be home approximately four days later against the winner of the playoff between Group B and E, whose seeds are Canada and Haiti.

The U.S. then has another tough road match at Honduras around June 11, before closing the June double window at home against Jamaica.

When qualifying resumes around Sept. 3, the U.S. will be at the winner of the playoff between Group C and D, whose seeds are Curaçao and Panama, then host Costa Rica. The October window has a home game against Jamaica and a road match at Jamaica, and the November window a home game against A/F and a road match at B/E, which could mean a chilly game in Canada.

FIFA’s new window at the end of January 2022 has a home game against Honduras and a road game at Mexico that most likely will be in the altitude of Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

Four games would be scheduled in a 13-day span if qualifying starts on June 3, the usual Thursday opening date of games in an international fixture window. Given the quick turnarounds, it would not be surprising if the double window opens slightly earlier and/or closes a bit later.

European club seasons are scheduled to end the weekend of May 22-23, except for the Europa League final on May 26 and Champions League final on May 29. Major League Soccer spokesman Dan Courtmanche said the league is reviewing whether to take breaks during the international windows.

CONCACAF had used the hexagonal for the final round of qualifying for the World Cups of 1998 through 2018. This year’s hex was to have started next month and included the region’s six highest-ranked nations, with Canada just missing out to El Salvador. Canada would have been among 30 teams competing to earn a berth in an intercontinental playoff.

But the coronavirus pandemic caused CONCACAF to announce a new format on July 27 that put the top five-ranked teams in the hex and gave the other 30 nations a chance to compete for three berths in the final round. Canada headed six teams seeded into first-round groups that play a single round robin, with two games each in October and November.

A: Antigua, El Salvador, Grenada, Montserrat, U.S. Virgin Islands

B: Aruba, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Suriname

C: British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Guatemala, St. Vincent

D: Anguilla, Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Panama

E: Belize, Haiti, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, Turks and Caicos

F: Bahamas, Guyana, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago

Group winners advance to a two-leg second round in March that determines which teams join the octagonal: The A winner plays F, B meets E and C faces D.

Fox, the U.S. English-language rights holder, did not televise the draw on any of its networks or online. NBCUniversal’s Telemundo, the U.S. Spanish-language rights holder, streamed it digitally only.

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