The Long & Winding Road to Russia
U.S. Soccer starts World Cup 2018 qualification tonight
The World Cup won’t kick-off in Moscow until June 14, 2018. Whichever way you want to look at it, that’s either 945 days, 135 weeks, or 2 years, 7 months, and 2 days away.
However, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team will begin the fourth round of qualification for the world’s most prestigious tournament tonight at 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2), when they meet St. Vincent & the Grenadines at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. On Tuesday, they’ll continue their march when they travel to the islands to take on Trinidad & Tobago at 5:25 p.m. (beIN Sports) in the second of six qualification matches they’ll play in the next year.
This round sees 12 CONCACAF (Caribbean and north and central American) teams split up into three groups. The four teams in each group play each other at home and on the road for a total of six games. The top two finishers from each of the three groups move on to the fifth and final round of qualifying.
Group A: Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico
Group B: Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, and Panama
Group C: Guatemala, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, United States
The six remaining teams will face each other in home and away match-ups between November 2016 and October 2017.
- November 7 & 15, 2016
- March 20 & 28, 2017
- June 5 & 13, 2017
- August 28 & September 5, 2017
- October 2 & 10, 2017
The top three finishers in “The Hex” automatically qualify for the World Cup. The fourth-place finisher will meet the fifth-place finisher from Asia in an intercontinental playoff for one of the final remaining spots in the tournament.
The Yanks are in a state of flux right now, with many wondering if the squad is directionless. The national team is 2-5 in its last seven matches, and many of the stars from the last World Cup cycle, including goalkeeper Tim Howard, forward Clint Dempsey, midfielders Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman and Defender Demarcus Beasley, are seemingly at the end of their international careers.
Head coach Jürgen Klinsmann will look to midfielder Michael Bradley, son of his predecessor, to captain his squad that will feature many young players and newcomers, including keeper Bill Hamid and forwards Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. These games should be a time for Klinsmann to develop squad depth by getting bench players as much on-field experience as possible. Many MLS players have been included in the team. Their success will be a telltale sign of the progress of our domestic soccer league.
I expect the USMNT to move on to the Hex, but I think it will be much more difficult for this team to qualify for the World Cup than it has been for them in previous campaigns. This squad needs a dependable scoring threat and a solid back line to take pressure off of the goalkeeper. In the end, the U.S. will be represented in Moscow, but in order to succeed, the team has a lot of growing to do.
The Whole World Is Watching
In order for the MNT to qualify for the World Cup, they’ll have to play at least 16 matches against regional opponents over the next two years. Their journey begins tonight at 5:30 against St. Vincent & the Grenadines and continues Tuesday evening at 5:25 in a road match against Trinidad & Tobago. Group C matches for CONCACAF’s 4th round are as follows:
USA vs. St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015
Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA
St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Guatemala
March 25, 2016
Guatemala vs. USA
St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Trinidad & Tobago
March 29, 2016
USA vs. Guatemala
Trinidad & Tobago vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Sept. 2, 2016
St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. USA
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guatemala
Sept. 6, 2016
USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Guatemala vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines