Earnie Stewart: “There’s no decisions made and there’s a lot of scenarios out there right now of what that needs to look like. The hard part about everything is nobody knows what … what we have ahead of us.” (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Don’t necessarily count out the hex, says U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart.
In contrast to last week’s comments by former U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, Stewart says that there still was a possibility Concacaf could use the six-team tournament – the hexagonal – that would determine the participants at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“I think there’s still a chance we can see the hex,” Stewart said on the latest U.S. Soccer Podcast. “There’s no decisions made and there’s a lot of scenarios out there right now of what that needs to look like. The hard part about everything is nobody knows what … what we have ahead of us.”
Stewart meant the fluid situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic in which priorities could change quickly, even daily.
“We’ve already missed out on the March dates, we’ve missed out on the June dates,” he added. “It kind of looks like the September dates at one moment might not be there, either. So, the possibility of qualifying and losing FIFA dates comes closer and closer. FIFA talks about adding dates as well.”
A former U.S. international who participated in many World Cup qualifiers during his playing days, Stewart sounded cautiously optimistic about the hex.
“I would say there’s still openness to the possibility of having the hex,” he said. “I would say that is very much in our interest as us soccer because we have qualified for the hex ever since at least before March, before the windows closed.”
Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and the U.S. already had qualified for the hex due to their FIFA rankings with the other two slots filled by teams through a competition. Those dates were wiped out by COVID-19.
One idea floating around, according to sources, is to take 12 Concacaf teams and place them in three groups of four teams apiece. Each group winner would qualify for Qatar with the team with the fourth best record playing in a special intercontinental playoff.
* There would be no room for error for the three Concacaf powerhouses – the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica – because it would be winner take all in all three groups. Second place would mean failure.
* Those three top teams in the region would be placed in separate groups and would not play one another. Traditionally, the confrontations between those three teams have been among the most compelling of Concacaf qualifiers.
“For us to go through any kind of other rounds to get to the qualification group, I don’t think would be fair at all because we earned that right,” said Stewart, who said that nobody knew how many international dates FIFA would add in the future.
During the U.S. Soccer board of directors meeting last Saturday, Cordeiro said the hex was “very unlikely to happen.”
“I think the hex is off more likely it will be some sort of group format in the remaining time we have,” he said. “Both the men and women are likely to get additional FIFA windows next year to make up for lost playing time this year. That might come too late for the men’s qualifiers.”
The U.S. Soccer podcast is co-hosted by Jordan Angeli and Charlie Davies.
To listen to the entire podcast, visit:
The latest edition of The U.S. Soccer Podcast features Sporting Director Earnie Stewart who talks about the the #USMNT participating in @FIFAWorldCup qualifying and whether the Hex format will stay in place.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) June 19, 2020