CONCACAF announced the preliminary draw for qualifying for the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday, with the U.S. opening the campaign on the road against an opponent that could end up being 2018 nemesis Trinidad & Tobago.
The new qualifying format, announced last month by CONCACAF, will be comprised of eight teams in the final round, and will begin in June of 2021. The top three teams will automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup, while the fourth place finisher will go to the intercontinental playoff.
"It's certainly an exciting day for CONCACAF and all the teams involved in the qualifying process," said U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter. "We have some clarity now. It's nice to see as the draw is going where things fall into place, and for us we're looking forward to this challenge.
"We know the some of the difficulties with qualifying top half we know there's some very difficult conditions to go to, but we're relishing that, and looking forward to playing home games."
The first round will see 30 teams take part in six groups of five, with the winners of each group progressing. The six group winners will then advance to a playoff round, with the winner of Group A playing the winner of Group F, the Group B winner playing the top team from Group E and Group C winner squaring off against the top team in Group D. Each matchup will be contested over two legs, with the three winners advancing to the final round to join the five top-ranked teams in the region.
The U.S., aiming to forget its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, will open against the team that emerges from the playoff pitting the winners of Group A and Group F. El Salvador is the top-ranked team in Group A, while T&T is the highest-ranked team in Group F. Arch rivals Mexico meanwhile will open against Jamaica at home.
Following the draw, U.S. international Christian Pulisic talked to U.S. Soccer about the possibility of starting qualifying on the road against T & T.
"Yeah, it could be really interesting," Pulisic said. "Obviously we know what happened last time around and it will just be an opportunity for us to go out and start really strong and obviously get some revenge there as well.
"Nothing is easy. Any team you play in CONCACAF can take you down. They are fighting for everything, they want to be in that World Cup just as bad as we do. The conditions can be tough and you have to be really ready for anything and we are going to have to go out and battle."
It was the Soca Warriors who inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the U.S. during the final day of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in October of 2017. Combined with other results that day, the defeat eliminated the U.S., marking the first time they failed to qualify since the 1986 World Cup.
Based on the preliminary scheduling, the U.S. is looking at a tricky run-in to complete the eight-team competition. The U.S. will travel to Mexico in January of 2022 and following a home match against the C/D playoff winner two months later, will travel to Costa Rica to finish out qualifying. The U.S. has historically fared poorly on the road in both Mexico and Costa Rica.
"For us, every game is pressure," said Berhalter. "You have a lot of pressure to win your home games because that's historically where you pick up the most points. We'll take every game and we'll put all we've got into each and every game and hopefully towards the end we'll be in a good position to qualify."
The complete U.S. schedule is as follows:
U.S. at A/F playoff winner in June, 2021
U.S. vs. B/E playoff winner in June, 2021
U.S. at Honduras in June, 2021
U.S. vs. Jamaica in June, 2021
U.S. at winner of C/D playoff in September, 2021
U.S. vs. Costa Rica in September, 2021
U.S. vs. Mexico in October, 2021
U.S. at Jamaica in October, 2021
U.S. vs. A/F playoff winner in November, 2021
U.S. at B/E playoff winner in November, 2021
U.S. vs. Honduras in January 2022
U.S. at Mexico in January 2022
U.S. vs. C/D playoff winner in March, 2022
U.S. at Costa Rica in March, 2022