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World Cup qualifying in Concacaf region postponed again because of pandemic

Josh Sargent and the U.S. national team hope to rebound from the embarrassment of missing the 2018 World Cup. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The start of the 2022 World Cup qualifying competition for Concacaf countries has been postponed again because of the coronavirus pandemic, tightening the window to play the three stages and increasing the likelihood next year’s regional final round will not start on schedule.

First-round matches, involving unseeded teams, were to have been played in October and November. They are now scheduled to start in March, which had been set aside for the second round.

“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 Tuesday in a written statement. “Additionally, several countries across the confederation have travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, which would make international football involving 30 national teams extremely difficult.”

Concacaf, which encompasses North and Central America and the Caribbean, did not announce the impact of the changes on the final round, which is slated to start in June. However, the most realistic start date is now the Aug. 30-Sept. 7 window that year. The ripple effect could push the last set of qualifiers beyond the March 2022 dates.

The United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Jamaica received automatic berths in the final round. The last three slots are to be determined via the first two rounds.

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Just six weeks ago, Concacaf altered the schedule and format because of the pandemic, streamlining the early stages and creating an eight-team final round instead of the usual six-team set-up. The United States and other top contenders were to have played their first qualifiers this month.

Three teams will automatically qualify for the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar, and a fourth will advance to an intercontinental playoff.

"These are extraordinary times, and we all need to continue to adjust,” U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter said in a written statement. “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 United States is seeking to rebound from the embarrassment of missing the 2018 World Cup, which ended a streak of seven consecutive appearances.

The U.S. Soccer Federation is aiming to arrange camps and friendlies in October (in the United States for MLS players) and November (in Europe for European-based players). A match in Wales is a strong possibility.

In March, the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras are to play the last stage of the Nations League, which was postponed this past June. Next summer’s regional calendar will also include the Gold Cup, a 16-team championship unrelated to World Cup qualifying.

European World Cup qualifying was postponed this summer and will begin in March. South American qualifying is slated to begin next month. The African and Asian tournaments have undergone scheduling changes.

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