MOSCOW (AP) — The head of North American soccer says the region's teams need until 2026 at a home World Cup to reach their full potential.
Mexico's traditional round of 16 loss this week left the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) without the quarterfinals place it got four years ago from Costa Rica.
"All in all, I think it's par for the course," CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said Tuesday of the region's performance in Russia.
With just three teams at this World Cup compared to four in 2014, Costa Rica was last in a tough group and newcomer Panama lost all three games.
"I think you will see an improvement in four years," Montagliani told The Associated Press in an interview, though suggesting "eight years is more realistic."
Elected to lead CONCACAF in 2016, the Canadian official acknowledged the soccer body had too often let down its 35 FIFA member nations.
"Quite frankly, over the last 40 years CONCACAF as a confederation has not really done much to help the federations try to compete at a world level," Montagliani said of an era tainted by corruption, and leaders indicted by the U.S. Justice Department.
Now moved from Manhattan to Miami, CONCACAF has reformed its business practices and revamped competitions for national and club teams.
A Nations League kicks off next year, designed to raise competitive standards by giving smaller national teams more fixtures and revenue in a two-year cycle.
Four places were added to the marquee Gold Cup, which the United States will host next year with 16 teams.
"Then we will see what we look like eight years from now when we host a World Cup in our backyard," Montagliani said.
Though Mexico beat Germany 1-0 in a stunning group-stage opener in Moscow, CONCACAF had a bigger win in the Russian capital. Five days earlier, FIFA members picked the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid over Morocco to host the 2026 tournament.
That 48-team edition will give CONCACAF six guaranteed places — likely with automatic entry for all three hosts — plus two more chances in an intercontinental playoff round in November 2025. Two of six teams will advance, with Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America all sending one entry.
In Russia, CONCACAF was understrength after Honduras lost its intercontinental playoff last November, going down 3-1 in Australia after drawing 0-0 in the home leg.
"It's really important we get a fourth team (in 2022)," Montagliani said. "I think this year it was disappointing Honduras didn't take advantage of their home field advantage."
Four years ago, Mexico grabbed a fourth place for the region when it surprisingly fell into the playoffs as Honduras advanced directly with the U.S. and Costa Rica.
This time, the U.S. slumped in the final qualifying group, letting in Panama which was overmatched in Russia.
"Like most debutants they saw how tough it is at this level," Montagliani said. "The team that probably should have qualified four years ago was here this year and a little bit old in the tooth. You're going to see a different Panama now in the next four years."
So too will CONCACAF on and off the field, the FIFA vice president insisted.
"Our confederation will look differently by the time we get to '22 and definitely look different by the time we host in '26."
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