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When does USA start qualifying for the 2026 World Cup?

The USA is guaranteed a berth in the 2026 World Cup as a co-host. However, we could still see the squad playing in the qualifying tournament.

A general view of the Nike game ball with the Concacaf logo during the second half of leg 1 of the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinal between New York City FC and Tigres UANL on March 11, 2020 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The USA’s time in the 2022 World Cup is officialy a wrap. The USMNT advanced out of the knockout stage for the seventh time in its history, but could not overcome a superior Dutch squad. The biggest highlight aside from advancement was playing England to a scoreless draw, but now the USA begins looking ahead to the 2026 World Cup.

The next World Cup will be a particularly big one for USA soccer. The USA, Mexico, and Canada will be co-hosts of the tournament. Hosting is a big deal for building the game in America, but it’s also important because the three co-hosts are guaranteed berths in the tournament.

Traditionally, the host country qualifies automatically, with co-hosts Japan and South Korea qualifying in 2002. It was initially unclear if all three co-hosts would qualify, but the host committee confirmed we will see the USA, Mexico, and Canada in the tournament. FIFA will likely officially announce it sooner than later.

Even if they had not automatically qualified, it would have been easier to qualify for the 2026 tournament. FIFA expanded the field from 32 to 48 teams, and with that came a doubling of CONCACAF’s teams in the tournament. The USA’s qualifying region will have six teams automatically qualify and two more qualify for the inter-confederation playoffs.

The USA hosted the 1994 World Cup and did not take part in the CONCACAF qualifying process. However, with arguably the three best squads serving as co-hosts, we could still see all three play to maintain some semblance of competitive integrity. Of course, with nothing to for those three to play for, maybe that would create issues of competitive integrity.

CONCACAF has not clarified the qualifying format yet, so we’ll be left to wait on next steps. The start date for qualifying also has not yet been announced. Qualifying for the 2022 tournament began in March 2021 with the first round, played the second round in June 2021, and then played the third and final round of qualifying from September 2, 2021 to March 30, 2022. That suggests qualifying would start in early 2025 for the 2026 World Cup.

If the USA does not take part in qualifying, we would see a sizable schedule of international friendlies to get the squad ready. They’ll also have the Gold Cup and other competitions in the meantime, but we’ll see what CONCACAF decides about qualifying participation.