The time has finally arrived! The final stage of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying is upon us, and eight teams will battle over the next seven months for three coveted spots in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
A new wrinkle, among others, is the plethora of three-match windows creating a compressed schedule. With the Octagonal bumped back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams are up against it to squeeze in all 14 of their qualifiers.
It all starts for the US men's national team Thursday night at Estadio Cuscatlan against an improved El Salvador side.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the tricky showdown.
- Thursday, September 2 | 10:05 pm ET
- Estadio Cuscatlan | San Salvador, El Salvador
How to watch and stream
- CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, Universo
What to know: United States
The young core has fans excited and ready to finally put the failure in Couva nearly four years ago in the rearview mirror.
The 26-man roster for this qualifier, as well as those upcoming against Canada and Honduras, features MLS standouts like New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner, Atlanta United center back Miles Robinson, Colorado Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta and LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Then there are young European guns like Josh Sargent, Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie, though Tim Weah is out through injury and Christian Pulisic stayed back stateside to build fitness.
Will it be enough for head coach Gregg Berhalter's team to start on the front foot?
What to know: El Salvador
Under the guidance of former USMNT standout and youth coach Hugo Perez, El Salvador are enjoying a bit of a resurgence. That was on full display at this summer's Concacaf Gold Cup, where La Selecta defeated Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago before a hard-fought 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the group stage. A furious rally came up just short in the quarterfinals with a wild 3-2 defeat to Qatar.
In addition to adopting an attacking style, Perez recruited Seattle Sounders FC defender/midfielder Alex Roldan and Toronto FC center back Eriq Zavaleta – and both have become core members of a new-look El Salvador. The other MLS connection to watch for is Houston Dynamo FC midfielder Darwin Ceren, a sturdy veteran who's approaching 70 caps.
El Salvador fans are dreaming of a return to the World Cup for the first time since 1982. Is this the game that moves their aspirations forward?