Road to 2026: World Cup qualifying kicks off Thursday

Less than nine months after the 2022 World Cup ended, qualifying for the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico begins on Thursday.

The monster of all qualifying groups is in Conmebol, where 10 teams will play 18 games over nine windows. It's the same format used since 1998.

At stake: six automatic berths in the 2026 World Cup and a spot in the intercontinental playoffs to the seventh-place team. That's two more automatic berths than in 2022 to take into account the expanded finals from 32 to 48 teams.

Of particular interest will be the presence of 26 players from 15 different MLS teams, led by Lionel Messi, who will lead Argentina in its title defense.

Soccer on TV: Argentina vs. Ecuador on Telemundo

Messi, who won the Golden Ball as the best player at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is joined on the Albiceleste by two other MLS players, Atlanta United's Thiago Almada (photo), who leads MLS with 14 assists and FC Dallas forward Alan Velasco, who received his first senior call-up.

Besides Messi and Almada, Carlos Gruezo (San Jose) and Facundo Torres (Orlando City) are holdovers from the 2022 World Cup finals, where they played for Ecuador and Uruguay, respectively.

MLS connection

Thiago Almada (Atlanta United)
Lionel Messi (Inter Miami)
Alan Velasco (FC Dallas)
Efrain Morales (Atlanta United)
Santiago Arias (FC Cincinnati)
Carlos Gruezo (San Jose)
Carlos Coronel (NY Red Bulls)
Andrés Cubas (Vancouver)
Diego Gómez (Inter Miami)
Braian Ojeda (Real Salt Lake)
Luis Abram (Atlanta United)
Miguel Araujo (Portland)
Wilder Cartagena (Orlando City)
Pedro Gallese (Orlando City)
Raúl Ruidíaz (Seattle)
Miguel Trauco (San Jose)
Cristian Olivera (LAFC)
Facundo Torres (Orlando City)
Jesús Bueno (Philadelphia)
Sergio Córdova (Vancouver)
Christian Makoun (New England)
José Martínez (Philadelphia)
Josef Martínez (Inter Miami)
Junior Moreno (FC Cincinnati)
Miguel Navarro (Chicago)
Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake)

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications