In January and March 2022 there will only be two final round matches that will decide which three lucky nations from the CONCACAF region (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) will travel to Qatar for the World Cup next November.
The U.S. men’s national team will enter these final sets of games with some confidence that repeating the mistake in 2018 qualifying is a distant possibility given the current score at this point. As early as 2018, the USMNT lost at home to Costa Rica and fell on the last day on the way to Trinidad & Tobago, who had already been eliminated. These two results ultimately eliminated the Americans from the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
After qualifying for the last seven FIFA World Cups, it seemed a matter of course that the US would always make it to the big dance. But the humbling lesson that 2018 taught fans and players alike is that the slightest misstep in qualifying can be devastating and no result can be taken for granted in the CONCACAF region. US fans were in a constant state of discomfort after this experience.
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So far so good for the 2022 edition. The USMNT is in a strong position (2nd place) after eight games, with the top three traveling to Qatar after 14 games. The fourth-placed team is offered the fallback of a play-in series against a wildcard team from another region. But many US fans may not be able to handle the stress that comes with finishing fourth. We analyze how the Americans could possibly avoid this completely and secure a top three placement.
|5. Costa Rica||9||8th||2||3||3||6th||7th||-1|
|7. El Salvador||6th||8th||1||4th||3||4th||10||-6|
How many points do you qualify for the World Cup?
If we use past regional World Cup qualifying cycles for historical comparisons, we need to use the points per game (PPG) metric, as only 10 games have been played in the CONCACAF finals in recent years (compared to the 14 on the pre-calendar calendar of Qatar 2022).
MORE: Which teams have already qualified for the World Cup?
The first three places (points per game in bold) qualified directly for each of the world championships listed below. And starting with the 2006 World Cup, the fourth-placed player advanced to a play-in series against a nation from another region.
* = Current points per game based on the 2022 CONCACAF qualification status after seven games
What stands out from the table above is that a number of 1.7 or 1.8 points per game (or more) seems like the magic number. The USMNT is currently at a clip at 1.9 points per game, with six games left to play. But the margins are okay: teams that are in the 1.6 point per game range have sweated it out in some of the past World Cup cycles.
After a slow start to the 2022 World Cup qualifying schedule, consecutive wins lifted the USMNT to a cheaper 1.7 and 2.0 points per game. Although the road defeat to Panama on October 10th caused excitement among the fan base again, thanks to the victory against Mexico it is back on the 2.0 clip.
USMNT World Cup Qualification Plan
|game||date||Opponent / Result||Highlights||PPG|
|1||Thursday, September 2, 2021||El Salvador 0, United States of America 0||Highlights||1.0|
|2||Sun, September 5, 2021||United States of America 1, Canada 1||Highlights||1.0|
|3||Wed, September 8, 2021||Honduras 1, United States of America 4th||Highlights||1.7|
|4th||Thursday, October 7, 2021||United States of America 2, Jamaica 0||Highlights||2.0|
|5||Sun, Oct 10, 2021||Panama 1, United States of America 0||Highlights||1.6|
|6th||Wed, Oct 13, 2021||United States of America 2, Costa Rica 1||Highlights||1.8|
|7th||Fri, November 12, 2021||United States of America 2, Mexico 0||Highlights||2.0|
|8th||Tuesday November 16, 2021||Jamaica 1, United States of America 1||Highlights||1.9|
So, realistically, what needs to happen for the US to be comfortably in the 1.7-1.8 points per game range it needs to qualify without breaking a sweat?
We tried to forecast a number of upcoming outcomes, assuming less favorable outcomes: road losses to Mexico and Canada and road losses to Jamaica and Costa Rica. Assuming the USMNT is able to score a perfect 3-0-0 at home too, the US would be at the 1.8 point per game level and presumably in a comfortable position.
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So it’s clear that in addition to doing business at home, the US needs to get one or two other big results (e.g., win in Canada or Mexico) to really cruise and avoid the pressures that proved crippling did four years ago when the Americans failed to get the required result on the final day of qualifying in 2018. In other words, at least 11 to 14 more points from the last 18 are available.
If just converting a tie to a win in the forecast outcomes scenario outlined below, US points per game would rise above the magical 1.8 mark that has historically been enough to qualify.
Projection of USMNT Results (3W-2L-1D)
|game||date||Opponent / Result||PPG|
|9||Thursday, January 27, 2022||USA 2, El Salvador 0 (Win)||2.0|
|10||Sunday January 30th 2022||Canada 1, USA 0 (Loss)||1.8|
|11th||Wednesday February 2, 2022||USA 2, Honduras 1 (Win)||1.9|
|12th||Thursday March 24, 2022||Mexico 1, USA 0 (Loss)||1.7|
|13th||Sunday March 27, 2022||USA 1, Panama 0 (Win)||1.8|
|14th||Wednesday March 30, 2022||Costa Rica 0, USA 0 (To draw)||1.8|
CONCACAF table tie breaks
There is always the possibility that the CONCACAF ranking is particularly close and that the USA are tied with one or more of the seven other nations in the qualification ranking. Tiebreakers would come into play.
Here are the table tiebreakers for teams even on points:
- Goal difference in all group matches
- Most goals scored in all group matches
- Most points from group matches between the teams concerned
- Goal difference from group matches between the teams concerned
- Most goals scored in group matches between the teams concerned
- Goals scored away (if two teams are tied)
- Discipline points (based on yellow / red cards)
- FIFA draw
The World Cup in Qatar will be held from November 21 to December 18, 2022.