Octagonal: USA's World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign just got more compressed

The USA's World Cup qualifying campaign just got more compressed.

On Friday, FIFA approved an expansion of the Concacaf windows for the Octagonal -- the new final round of World Cup qualifying -- by an extra day during four windows.

The eight teams in the Octagonal will play their 14 games over five windows in a span of seven months. In 2016-17, the six teams in the Hexagonal played 10 games over five windows in a span of 12 months.

To get there, the new schedule will include three games in four of the five windows:

Sept. 2021. 1. At Group A/F Winner. 2. Group B/E Winner. 3. At Honduras.
Oct. 2021. 4. Jamaica. 5. At Group C/D Winner. 6. Costa Rica.
Nov. 2021. 7. Mexico. 8. At Jamaica.
Jan. 2022. 9. Group A/F Winner. 10. At Group B/E Winner. 11. Honduras.
March 2022.  12. At Mexico. 13. Group C/D Winner. 14. At Costa Rica.

In August, Concacaf announced the new format for World Cup 2022 qualifying, the second change in format in less than a year from the traditional Hexagonal.

Five seeds -- the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Jamaica -- qualified directly to the Octagonal based on their FIFA rankings. Concacaf's other 30 FIFA nations will compete in a preliminary competition to determine the other three teams in the Octagonal.

The original plan was to complete the preliminary round in March 2021 and start the Octagonal with four games in June 2021. But that plan had to be quickly scrapped when Concacaf shut down official play in the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

(When El Salvador plays the USA in a friendly on Wednesday, it will become only the ninth Concacaf team to play since the start of the pandemic.)

The new plan: group play in the preliminary round will be played over nine matchdays in March and June 2021 followed by the two-leg finals in the June 2021.

The end result will be the same: the top three teams in the Octagonal will qualify for Qatar 2022 and the fourth-place team will compete in a two-leg playoff series in June 2022.

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