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U.S. road to Qatar starts with El Salvador visit

The United States men’s national team will open up their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign in September with a visit to El Salvador.

Along with El Salvador, Canada and Panama also advanced on Tuesday to join the USMNT, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico in CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying for the World Cup.

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The eight teams will play each other home and away, a total of 14 matches. The top three of the Octagonal will qualify directly to Qatar, with the fourth-placed team going to the intercontinental playoff in June 2022.

The round was expanded from the six-team Hexagonal format used in previous World Cup cycles to accommodate the suspension of several international windows in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After their visit to El Salvador, the USMNT will host Canada before traveling back to Central America to play Honduras. The dates and venues of the matches are yet to be determined.

Other marquee matches for the U.S. side will be hosting Costa Rica in October and then Mexico in November. However, the U.S. face a tough window in March 2022 with return visits to both those rivals.

Four of the five qualifying windows — September 2021, October 2021, January 2022, and March 2022 — will see the eight teams play three games apiece. Only in November 2021 will the teams play two matches.

The U.S. failed to qualify to the 2018 World Cup in Russia after losing to Trinidad & Tobago in the final match of the qualifying round.

Before this cycle’s qualifying campaign begins, the USMNT will participate in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which begin on July 1. The final is slated for Aug. 1 at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.

USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter has said he would call up mostly Major League Soccer players for the Gold Cup, allowing Europe-based stars such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie to skip the tournament ahead of their club seasons. Those players are expected to be called back up for the start of the World Cup qualifying schedule.

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