Depending on who you ask, World Cup expansion for 2022 is either a done deal or as close to that as possible. In other words, a little over a month out from the vote in Paris it now seems likelier that it does happen than it doesn’t. That makes the obvious technical questions things that FIFA will deal with in time for the tournament. Top on that list might be figuring out where to stage the excess games, but the bigger issue for the rest of the world is qualifying.
Concacaf has been quiet about the process for 2022. It’s no secret that the power brokers in the region may not feel the same way about the Hexagonal round as the fans. Had earlier FIFA votes gone Concacaf’s way and given them four full World Cup spots, their final round pressure cooker would’ve already gone away. Concacaf planned on splitting the final round, sending two teams from each side. Should expansion go forward, they’ll have at least six spots and no obvious need for a final round at all.
2026 complicates things for Concacaf should all three hosts qualify automatically as expected. The assumption is that would leave the rest of the region with 3.5 places and the potential return of the Hex without two of the regular participants. There’s been no announced planning about qualifying a World Cup from now either, not exactly surprising.
For 2022, the risk is that Concacaf gets creative. A look at the current version of their tournaments for countries and clubs doesn’t exactly suggest a region that has a clear vision of what it wants. The Concacaf Champions League went from group stage to knockout only for the biggest domestic leagues, still managing to open during preseason for one of those leagues. The Gold Cup expansion is an answer to a question nobody was asking, sort of like whether or not to write their name in all caps.
Earlier this year, Concacaf had to assure everybody that they were still committed to the Gold Cup following comments by US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro. It’s tough to refer to a tournament as “the pinnacle event of our confederation” when so many people seemed to nod along with the idea that its future may be in doubt. Cordeiro stepped back his comments and the Gold Cup plays on every other summer now and “once the new FIFA calendar is produced after 2023.”
Meanwhile, the Concacaf Nations League begins this fall with plenty of people wondering why. Forcing games that count onto the schedule for smaller teams that would otherwise sit out international windows is a laudable goal. It’s an open question why that obligates the bigger teams in the region who always fill those dates themselves. That might help the FIFA ranking of the bigger countries since Nations League games now count more than friendlies in the formula, but it’s also a risk. Putting a new tournament on the schedule doesn’t necessarily give it meaning for fans.
Meaning is going to be the issue should World Cup expansion happen now rather than later. Qualifying needs to be a crucible. Big teams need to risk failing. Good teams need to come out of qualifying knowing they can compete at World Cup level. Too many World Cup spots erodes that meaning. It’s Concacaf’s job to make sure that stays in place, even if FIFA rushes the time-frame.
Rounding up the soccer scores, Jonathan Amon scored in Nordsjaelland’s 2-1 home loss to Midtjylland in the Superliga. Amon’s goal came in the 19th minute with Midtjylland scoring in the 50th and 61st. Nordsjaelland played a man down from the 73rd with a red card to Abdul Mumin. Amon subbed out in the 75th minute.
Did Not Play: Joe Gyau (Duisburg 2 – Arminia Bielefeld 2)
ESPN’s Tom Marshall previews the second-leg of the Concacaf Champions League final. The Athletic’s Adam Snavely takes issue with MLS disciplinary decisions . The Guardian’s Joshua Kloke’s look at the Canadian Premier League.
The Independent’s Miguel Delaney reports that Paul Pogba is ready to leave Manchester United.
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