2018 World Cup Draw: USMNT Should Coast Through CONCACAF Round Four

There’s no reason the United States men’s national soccer team’s march to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia should end at home, in the Caribbean or in Central America, let alone before 2017.

FIFA conducted the preliminary draw for 2018 World Cup qualifying Saturday in St. Petersburg, Russia, and 34th-ranked Team USA landed in Group C of CONCACAF (the region comprising the nations of North and Central America and the Carribean) of Round Four along with Trinidad and Tobago (ranked 64th) and the winners of Round Three play-in series between Antigua and Barbuda (ranked 107th) and Guatemala (ranked 105th) and St Vincent (ranked 115th) and the Grenadines and Aruba (ranked 135th).

Regardless of how Round Three plays out, the U.S. should have no problem advancing out of Group C to the hexagonal, or fifth and final round of CONCACAF qualifying. After all, the U.S. has qualified for the last seven World Cups and established itself as one of the mightiest teams in the region.

Round Four of CONCACAF qualifying will kick off Nov. 9, 2015, and end Sept. 6, 2016. The teams in each group will play each other home and away, earning three points for a win, one for a draw and zero for a loss.

Team USA was one of the seeded teams in CONCACAF, and the draw was kind to the Americans, as expected. Regardless of which teams emerge from Round Three, the U.S. should win each of its home games comfortably and convincingly. Such is Team USA’s strength relative to the other sides in Group C. The road trips could be tricky endeavors, with Trinidad and Guatemala posing the biggest potential hurdles. However, it’s not unreasonable to believe the U.S. will go unbeaten in the six games it plays in Round Four.

Team USA’s failure in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup demonstrated the potential pitfalls of tournament soccer, but qualifying campaigns are a different proposition. Tournament soccer emphasizes form, fitness and focus. Results of games can hinge on one moment of brilliance or a mistake, as was the case in Team USA’s semifinal loss to Jamaica.

Quality and depth often play a greater role in determining which teams prevail in league or qualifying campaigns. The U.S. has monumental advantages over each potential Round Four opponent, and their coaching staff should be able to hone the group’s fitness and focus levels well enough to navigate through the smooth currents.

Thumbnail photo via Ivan Sekretarev/The Associated Press

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