CONCACAF is making small changes to World Cup qualifying for 2018, but the last two rounds will remain the same, according to Sportsnet. Rather than a second-round group stage, qualifying will expand to five rounds, and the first three rounds will now be two-legged home-and-away ties. Those will feed into the three-group semifinals and one-group finals.
The format for the semifinals and finals, unchanged since 1998, remains the same: three groups of four teams play six matches each, home and away, in the semifinals. The top-two teams advance to the final round, or Hex, composed of one group of six teams. The Hex takes place in the year before the World Cup and sees each team play 10 matches, one at home and one away against each team.
While FIFA has not yet confirmed how many spots CONCACAF will receive for the 2018 World Cup, it is expected to remain at 3.5. That means the top-three teams in the Hex automatically qualify for the world's biggest sporting event, while the fourth-place team goes to a inter-confederation playoff to qualify.
The first round will be played by teams ranked 22nd to 35th in CONCACAF in March of 2015. The seven winners will then join teams ranked ninth to 21st in the second round, to be played next June before the Gold Cup. Ten teams will make it out of that stage and join teams ranked seventh and eighth (Jamaica and Haiti) in the third round. Six teams will emerge from there and they, along with the top-six ranked teams, will make up the 12-team semifinal round.
The semifinals will be played in 2016, with the top-six teams in CONCACAF joining in at this stage. The August 2014 FIFA rankings will reportedly be used to determine who the rankings so the top-six teams are the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, all of whom would skip out on the preliminary rounds.