The schedule will begin this March — less than a year after the 2014 tournament ended. The opening round involves the 14 lowest-ranked teams, such as Belize, Bermuda and Bahamas.
Jurgen Klinsmann‘s U.S. squad, along with Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, will not enter until this November when the field is pared to 12 teams.
The volume remains the same for the Americans and the other five top seeds: 16 matches. What is different is the timetable. Because of fewer official dates on the FIFA calendar and CONCACAF teams competing in the 2016 Copa America, the U.S. schedule will begin seven months earlier than the previous World Cup cycle. Had the qualifiers not begun so early, the Americans would have played friendlies during those FIFA windows.
The U.S. schedule
Semifinal round (three four-team groups)
Nov. 7-17, 2015: two matches
March 21-29, 2016: two matches
Aug. 29-Sept. 6, 2016: two matches
(MLS will honor the FIFA window in November and presumably both periods next year)
Two teams from each of the three groups will advance to the six-team final round for 10 matches (five home, five away):
Nov. 7-15, 2016: two matches
March 20-28, 2017: two matches
June 5-13, 2017: two matches
Aug. 28-Sept. 5, 2017: two matches
Oct. 2-10, 2017: two matches
CONCACAF rankings (based on FIFA rankings in August 2014):
1. Costa Rica
3. United States
6. Trinidad & Tobago
12. Dominican Republic
13. El Salvador
16. St. Vincent and Grenadines
17. St. Lucia
19. Antigua & Barbuda
21. Puerto Rico
22. St. Kitts & Nevis
29. Turks & Caicos
31. U.S. Virgin Islands
33. Cayman Islands
34. British Virgin Islands
— Teams 22-35 will play seven home-and-home series this March 23-31.
— The seven advancing sides will join teams 9-21 for 10 home-and-home series this June 8-16.
— The 10 survivors will advance to the third round, this Aug. 31-Sept. 8, and be joined by Jamaica and Haiti for six home-and-home series.
— Those six teams to advance will join the top six seeds this fall for the start of semifinal-round group play.
The draw for the first two rounds will take place this Thursday night in Miami.
The draw for subsequent stages will be held this July 25 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Venues for the three U.S. semifinal home matches will not be decided for quite some time.