[USA MEN]Can't get enough of the U.S. national team? In less than two months, it will be back in action Sept. 3 when it faces the Czech Republic in Prague. It is the only game announced so far for the rest of 2014. But the busiest schedule in the history of the men's national team program awaits it between now and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
U.S. Soccer has to balance many interests as it goes about scheduling matches beyond the official competitions already slotted in. These matches fall into three categories:
-- Extended get togethers like the January camps or pre-World Cup qualifying gatherings (training and friendlies) that took place in 2012 and 2013.
-- One-off home friendlies against big-drawing teams that generate big paydays.
-- Friendlies played in Europe that allow the national team to gather conveniently European-based players.
The two changes to note over the next four-year cycle are the addition of Copa Centenario in the United States in 2016 (dates and locations to be determined) and the elimination of the February and August single-fixture days and June triple-fixtures, which will impact the next Hexagonal.
Here's how the next few years look based on the FIFA calendar:
Sept. 1-9.Friendly Matches.
Oct. 6-14.Friendly Matches.
Nov. 10-18.Friendly Matches.
In addition to the Czech Republic game on Sept. 3, any games scheduled in the fall will likely be played in Europe to accommodate European-based players. The October and November dates would conflict with the last month of the MLS regular season and the MLS playoffs (a big problem in 2013).
March 23-30.Official or Friendly Matches.
May 30-June 20. U-20 World Cup (New Zealand)
June 8-16.Official or Friendly Matches.
July 7-26.Gold Cup 2015.
Aug. 31-Sept. 8. Official or Friendly Matches.
Oct. 5-13.Official or Friendly Matches.
Oct. 17-Nov. 8. U-17 World Cup (New Zealand)
Nov. 9-17.Official or Friendly Matches.
The most significant thing to note is that the Gold Cup, which was scheduled to end on the day of the Women's World Cup final, has been moved back a month to July. This will likely impact the availability of some European-based players, who will be in the midst of pre-season preparations for the 2015-16 club seasons.
The Under-20 World Cup and Under-17 World Cup are included because they will be events U.S. fans will want to follow, assuming the USA qualifies. Only one player on the 2014 World Cup team -- DeAndre Yedlin -- played in one of the 2011 or 2013 FIFA youth events, but the hope would be that number grows in the next cycle. The rising U-17s, in particular, have a deep pool of very promising talent.
Julian Greenis eligible to play in the 2013 Under-20 World Cup, but it is unlikely U.S. Soccer (or Bayern Munich) would want him to play in the event, if the USA qualifies.
March 21-29.Official or Friendly Matches.
May 30-June 7.Official or Friendly Matches.
Aug. 5-21.Olympics (Brazil).
Aug. 29-Sept. 6.Official or Friendly Matches.
Oct. 3-11.Official or Friendly Matches.
Nov. 7-15.Official or Friendly Matches.
*not on FIFA calendar.
Things get really busy in 2016 with the start of World Cup qualifying -- perhaps even the start of the Hexagonal -- the Copa Centenario (the 100th edition of the Copa America) and the Rio Olympics.
If Concacaf uses the same format for World Cup qualifying, the USA will be exempt until the semifinal round and play on three double fixture dates ending in October. Because of the elimination of the February fixture date and triple June date, the Hexagonal, as it stands now, would have to begin in the October 2016 window to finish a year later in order to leave time for the intercontinental playoffs in November 2017.
FIFA has to approve the scheduling of the Copa Centenario in order for players to be released. It is assumed the 16-team tournament -- with 10 teams from Conmebol and six from Concacaf -- will be played in June when Euro 2016 in France is held.
Three players on the 2014 World Cup team -- John Brooks, Green and Yedlin -- are eligible to play in the 2016 Olympics. It would be highly unlikely that their clubs -- whatever they are a year and half from now -- would release them for Olympic qualifying.The USA did not qualify in 2012, and no player from the 2012 under-23 team that took part in qualifying played in the 2014 World Cup.
March 20-28. Official or Friendly Matches.
June 5-13. Official or Friendly Matches.
July. *Gold Cup.
Aug. 28-Sept. 5. Official or Friendly Matches.
Oct. 2-10. Official or Friendly Matches.
Nov. 6-14. Official or Friendly Matches.
*not on FIFA calendar.
To be scheduled: Under-20 World Cup in South Korea and Under-17 World Cup in India.
If the USA wins the 2015 Gold Cup, it qualifies for the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. If it doesn't, it will play the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup in a playoff -- date to be determined -- to decide the Concacaf representative at the Confederations Cup.
Concacaf and CAF (Africa) are the only confederations that still organize regional championships every two years. The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations is scheduled to be played in Libya. Plans for the the 2017 Gold Cup (or for the 2015 Gold Cup for that matter) have not been been announced.
As previously mentioned, there are only four double fixture dates on the 2017 calendar, so the Hexagonal will likely have to begin in October 2016 for it to conclude in October 2017.