What a time to be an American soccer fan. Despite a 2-1 loss to Belgium to be eliminated from the round of 16 at this summer’s World Cup, soccer’s increasing popularity in the United States continues on. Fans are firing on all cylinders, and blowing up social media with talk of soccer and the US Men’s National team. Message boards and fan forums are being flooded with an influx of new users, and posting everything related to the national team. Fans are praising the team, giving constructive criticism, and looking forward to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“So, what happens now?” is what some of you may be wondering. Where do we as fans go from here? 2018 is a ways from now, but the next World Cup cycle has already begun for Coach Jürgen Klinsmann and the US national team. Many players from the 2014 World Cup squad may make the next World Cup or be heavily involved in the buildup, but many well-known players will not because of age. How do we get fans, both new and old, to stick with the team through the thick and thin over the next four years? We overload them with information! We tell them everything that’s going to happen between now and 2018, so they can educate themselves, and be informed on everything related to the men’s national team and it’s related youth teams. So, let’s get right to it. Here’s part 2 of my timeline for the 2018 World Cup. For part 1 click here.
The few events that round out 2015, and 2016 is where we’ll see the US Men’s national team enter qualification for the 2018 World Cup. The FIFA calender in 2016 gives the US Men’s National team five official FIFA dates, the 2016 Olympic Soccer Tournament, and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. The US has been seeded high in CONCACAF, which has translated to byes until the later qualifying rounds. The US began qualification for the 2014 World Cup in June of 2012, which was about two years after the 2010 World Cup. 2016 has several FIFA dates as the qualification for the 2018 World Cup really begins to pick up. The first FIFA date is on March 21st-29th. The second date is where the US could begin their 2018 qualifying campaign, but with the Copa America being announced, I expect the third round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualification to begin on the third FIFA date. The second FIFA date in 2016 is from May 30th through June 7th. The second date overlaps with the Copa America Centenario as it begins on June 3rd and ends on June 26th.
The 2016 Olympic Soccer Tournament soon follows as it begins on August 5th, but the United States must first qualify through the 2016 CONCACAF Pre-Olympic Tournament. The two finalists of the Pre-Olympic Tournament qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A date and location for the Pre-Olympic Tournament have not yet been announced, but it will most likely take place in March or April of 2016. The US Men’s Olympic team is a U-23 team, but the roster is allowed to consist of three players over the age of 23. The United States did not qualify for the 2012 Olympic Tournament after an embarrassing exit in the knockout round of the Pre-Olympic Tournament, so the pressure to qualify will be high.
Three sets of official FIFA dates bring 2016 to a close. The first takes place from August 29th through September 6th, the second is on October 3rd-11th, and the third is on November 7th-15th. These dates can be used for both friendlies and World Cup Qualification games, but teams still participating in World Cup Qualification rounds will be playing qualification games. Teams around the world who have been eliminated from World Cup Qualification are able to schedule friendly games against each other on these dates. The US Men’s national team will play in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup during these last three FIFA dates, while they could use the FIFA dates in March and May/June for friendlies.
The World Cup Qualification process comes to a close in 2017 as the United States will be concluding their World Cup Qualifying journey, but also competing in three major tournaments as well. While the US Men’s national team is wrapping up their qualification process, the 2017 Confederations Cup, the 2017 U-20 World Cup, and the 2017 U-17 World Cup will all be taking place. The US U-20 and U-17 teams will also have to participate in their respective CONCACAF Championships, just as they will in 2015, to qualify for the World Cups. Dates have not been announced for either the 2017 U-20 or U-17 World Cups, but the U-20 World Cup will be held in South Korea and the U-17 World Cup will be held in India. The 2017 Confederations Cup will be held in Russia from June 17th through June 2nd. Although the United States won the 2013 Gold Cup, they will have to either win the 2015 Gold Cup or beat the 2015 Gold Cup winner in a playoff to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup.
There are five total FIFA dates in 2017, and on these dates you’ll see the US Men’s national team begin the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualification, which is also known as The Hexagonal or The Hex. It’s known as such because of there being six teams taking part in the fourth round. The number of CONCACAF teams that will qualify for the 2018 World Cup is still unknown as I touched on earlier, but it will likely be somewhere between three and four. The five FIFA dates in 2017 take place on March 20th-28th, June 5th-13th, August 28th through September 5th, October 2nd-10th, and November 6th-14th.
The very last event to take place in 2017 is the 2018 World Cup Final Draw. Although no date has been announced, it’s assumed that the final draw will be held in early December 2017. If FIFA does as they did for the 2014 World Cup, the FIFA Rankings from October 2017 will be used for the 2018 World Cup Final Draw. FIFA used the October 2013 rankings when teams were seeded and drawn into eight groups during the 2014 World Cup Final Draw, which took place in December of 2013.
The US Men’s national team will begin 2018 knowing which teams will be in their group during the 2018 World Cup, and what preparations will be necessary. We will see the US Men’s national team play some friendlies before the World Cup that summer, but that’s basically it. 2018 for the most part will be agonizingly slow. The soccer world has to simply wait for six months until the World Cup comes around in June. Until then, we have to patiently wait and keep ourselves occupied by keeping tabs on American soccer players playing both in MLS and abroad. These next four years are going to be so exciting, and I’ll be watching every step of the way. Will you?