Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's Next for the USMNT?

After some early bad publicity to their World Cup (primarily because Landon Donovan was left off the roster), the United States put together an incredibly exciting run to the Round of 16 where they were an airball from Chris Wondolowski away from advancing to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for fans of the international game, the World Cup only comes around once every four years. Personally, I love international competition but don't follow club soccer very closely. For others like me that still haven't picked a club team to support, there is plenty to look forward to over the next four years on the international level.

2015 U-20 World Cup
Qualification January 2015
Tournament June 2015

The Under-20 World Cup will be held in New Zealand in 2015. The United States has secured a spot in qualification. Four teams from CONCACAF (which covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean) will qualify. Given Jurgen Klinsmann's emphasis on youth in the 2014 World Cup squad, it is entirely possible that some of these players will find their way onto the American squad in the 2018 World Cup qualification cycle. Also, the U-20 World Cup is a good measure for which teams will be competitive in the 2016 Summer Olympics (which is primarily an under-23 tournament).

2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup
July 2015

The CONCACAF Championships will take place in July 2015. The United States has already qualified as the defending champions. If the United States wins the 2015 Gold Cup, they will receive an automatic berth into the 2017 Confederations Cup (which is a tournament between the champions of each regional federation). The US won the 2013 Gold Cup last year, so if the US does not win the 2015 Gold Cup, they will face the winner in a play-off to determine CONCACAF's representative in the Confederations Cup.

World Cup Qualifying Third Round

CONCACAF has not announced the structure for World Cup qualification for the 2018 World Cup yet, but if they follow a procedure similar to 2014 qualification, the top 6 teams in the federation (which the US will be one of) get a bye to the third round of qualification. This means the United States likely won't begin their campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup until 2016. The Third Round of qualification features 3 groups of 4 teams where the top 2 from each group advance to the Fourth Round Hexagonal.

Copa America Centenario
June 2016

The United States will host the 2016 Copa America Centario, a 16-team tournament between the 10 South American teams and 6 teams from CONCACAF. Should FIFA strip Qatar of their hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup, this could be seen as a dress rehearsal for US venues vying to be included as sites for the 2022 World Cup. The 10 South American teams (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela) along with the United States and Mexico have already qualified. The last four spots in the tournament will be decided by the 2014 Copa Centroamericana, 2014 Caribbean Cup and 2015 Gold Cup. This will be a highly publicized tournament and it will be going head-to-head with the UEFA European Championship.

Summer Olympics
August 2016

Back to Brazil? Soccer will be an event at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. However, the Olympic tournament only permits 3 players per team to be over the age of 23. This basically makes the Olympics a glorified Under-23 tournament and therefore it is not counted as a "major" international competition in Men's Soccer. There is a qualifying tournament as well that will take place in 2016. The US failed to qualify for the soccer tournament in the 2012 games, but since DeAndre Yedlin (who saw time in all 4 World Cup games) and Julian Green (who scored against Belgium) will both be under 23 at the time of this tournament, the US will have a chance to qualify.

World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal

If the United States advances through the Third Round of CONCACAF's World Cup qualifying, they will enter the 6-team Hexagonal qualification stage. In the last cycle, the top 3 teams in The Hex advanced to the World Cup and the 4th place team was entered into a Intercontinental play-off against the champions from the OFC.

2017 Confederations Cup

The summer before each World Cup, the Confederations Cup is held in the host nation of the World Cup. The Confederations Cup is a short tournament often seen as a "World Cup Warm-Up" between the champions from each Confederation. The US can qualify automatically by winning the 2015 Gold Cup or by winning a playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner.

2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup

The Gold Cup is a biannual tournament, so there will be two competitions between now and the next World Cup. The 2017 and 2019 Gold Cup winners will determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2021 Confederations Cup, which could be held in the United States if the 2022 World Cup is taken away from Qatar and given to the US.

Also, don't forget about...

Women's World Cup
June 2015

The United States Women's National Team has had an incredible run of success and is one of the most accomplished teams on the planet. The CONCACAF Women's Championship will take place in October 2014 which will determine the 3 teams that automatically qualify for the 2015 Women's World Cup. The fourth place team will face third place team from CONMEBOL in an intercontinental playoff to a spot in the 2015 Women's World Cup, which will be held in Canada.

Summer Olympics -Women's Soccer
August 2016

Unlike the men's tournament, the women's tournament permits "senior" rosters to be used in the Summer Olympics. This basically means that the same teams from the previous summer's Women's World Cup face off again with Olympic Gold on the line.

These are just the international tournaments that will take place between now and the 2018 World Cup. The United States is always very aggressive in scheduling friendlies against some of the best competition in the world. Therefore, even if you are like me and don't have a club soccer team that you follow closely, there is certainly enough competition on the international front over the next three summers to maintain an interest in the National Team until the next World Cup.

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