CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers delayed, may affect USMNT schedule

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CONCACAF announced that the World Cup qualifiers scheduled for the October and November international windows have been postponed due to the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with qualifying now set to begin in March of 2021.

The decision to delay the start of qualifying took place following discussions CONCACAF had with its member associations, FIFA and other stakeholders.

"Many parts of the region continue to have very challenging public health situations, and that has been a key factor in this decision," CONCACAF said in a statement. "Additionally, several countries across the confederation have travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, which would make international football involving 30 national teams extremely difficult."

The October and November windows were scheduled to be used for the opening matches of first round of qualifying, in which 30 teams had been divided into six groups of five. The group winners would 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.

At present, CONCACAF has no plans to alter the format, but it is unclear what effect the postponement of the initial first round matches will have on the remainder of the schedule. The most likely scenario is that the first round will last from March of 2021 until the first half of the June 2021 window. The playoff round will then take place during the second portion of the June window, leaving the final round octagonal to begin in September of 2021.

The United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Jamaica are already through into the octagonal due to their FIFA rankings.

As for the immediate impact on the USMNT, it wasn't scheduled to play any qualifiers in the upcoming windows -- it is in the process of organizing friendlies during that time instead -- but it is remaining flexible as the new plan takes shape.

"These are extraordinary times, and we all need to continue to adjust," said U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter. "We have established a strong foundation in our group and we will deal with whatever comes our way. We look forward to receiving the updated schedule so we can plan accordingly."

The issue that CONCACAF faces -- beyond the continued impact of the pandemic -- is that if it is to finish the final round of qualifying by March of 2022, at present that will only accommodate 10 of the required 14 matches. That means either more additional fixture dates will need to be added, or the intercontinental playoff -- currently scheduled for June of 2022 --will need to be pushed back.

For now, CONCACAF is only saying it will work with FIFA to finalize a new schedule, beginning with the first round in March 2021. The revised schedule will be communicated "in due course."