Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying schedule is now officially altered, as the FIFA Council confirmed Thursday that the September international window—when the USA and the rest of the region was supposed to start down the road to Qatar 2022—has been canceled outside Europe and South America.
Concacaf and U.S. Soccer Federation officials have been anticipating that decision for months. As the coronavirus continues to surge in parts of North America, travel restrictions and the slower return of professional leagues meant time was running out to restart international competition. The USA’s most recent game was Feb. 1, after which the March and June international windows were lost to the pandemic.
"Concacaf welcomes the decisions made by FIFA regarding the men’s and women’s international match calendars. Many of our Member Associations and their communities continue to face significant challenges due to COVID-19 and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time," Concacaf said in a statement.
FIFA said September internationals in South America and UEFA, which is supposed to kick off its 2020-21 Nations League competition, are “subjected to continued monitoring of the situation.”
The loss of the September window sets several things in motion for Concacaf and the U.S. national team. The governing body still intends to play its inaugural Nations League finals, which were supposed to be staged this month in Houston and Dallas. It’s also looking at how it can revamp the World Cup qualifying competition to potentially increase the number of teams involved in the final round, thus eliminating the traditional Hexagonal, while decreasing the number of windows required. The Hex originally was scheduled to end in September 2021, after which two windows would be required for playoffs.
"The challenges presented by postponements to the football calendar, and the incomplete FIFA rankings cycle in our confederation, means our current World Cup Qualifying process has been compromised and will be changed. We will now work with the new framework provided and liaise with FIFA to finalize a new World Cup Qualification format for the Concacaf region," Concacaf said. "We will also work with our stakeholders to reorganize the Concacaf Road to Gold Cup Qualifiers (originally scheduled for March and June 2020), the Concacaf Nations League Finals (originally scheduled for June 2020) and a range of other suspended competitions."
The timing of the 2021 Gold Cup and scheduling of the 2021-22 Concacaf Nations League also are factors.
FIFA offered a bit of extra flexibility on Thursday. The Council postponed the intercontinental playoffs—the very last stage of World Cup qualifying—from March 2022 to June 2022. It also agreed to lengthen the June 2021 window by a week, which should allow for four matches instead of two (the Gold Cup is then scheduled for July 2-25).
The next international window on the FIFA calendar is October 5-13.