5️⃣ Five thoughts from the October Concacaf Nations League window
The cream rises to the top. PLUS: Analysis of League B+C
It was a massive Tuesday in the Concacaf region, with Mexico holding Germany to a 2-2 draw, the United States smashing Ghana before the game even really got going and League A wrapping up.
A win from Panama over Guatemala means Panama is into the November Concacaf Nations League quarterfinals, along with Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica and Honduras clinched their places on Sunday. The winners of these two-legged series will qualify for the 2024 Copa América and the CNL Final Four. The losers will play each other for the last two places in the Copa América.
I’ll get to the North American teams (Yes, unfortunately, you too, Canada!) in future newsletters, but here are five thoughts after a busy October in Concacaf Nations League action:
Cream rises to the top with Panama, Jamaica showing their class
The format was odd. Some teams played each other twice, others not at all. I had to do math.
In the end, though, the teams that have recently shown they’re the best in the region after Mexico and the U.S. were able to navigate a path filled with potholes to finish atop their groups.
“To finish top of the league, that’s what we set out to do before the Nations League even started,” Jamaica forward Michail Antonio said after the match, noting he would’ve been even happier had he been able to finish off one of his scoring chances against Haiti.
Few associated with the Reggae Boyz minded, especially after the attacking onslaught they were able to put on Grenada and Haiti. “Mission accomplished. We wanted six points, wanted to top the group and we did that,” assistant Merron Gordon noted.
It was the same in Panama, where other results made things trickier but an early goal from Adalberto “Coco” Carrasquilla, a red card for Guatemala that led to a Panama penalty and a late cherry on top made it a comfortable 3-0 victory for the home side.
Panama manager Thomas Christiansen brushed off the idea that the win over a Central American rival was a huge triumph or that he was some sort of miracle worker.
“That’s what the players do. They make me better. They’ve shown a lot of fight and were eager to be back to the Rommel,” Christiansen said after the first match in the national stadium in several months.
Now, Panama can turn its attention to Costa Rica, a team that has become a familiar foe after meetings in the previous Nations League and the Gold Cup group stage.
“Every game against Costa Rica, or whoever it is, is a new one,” the coach said. “We’ve had a lot of games against them recently but we have to put in the effort to win again.”
With a month to go before those matches, both Jamaica and Panama are where they feel like they should be: On top of the group and preparing for matches that will be tough, yes, but won’t be against the two best teams in the confederation.
Relegation will hurt for some League A teams, but may be just what they need
Nobody wants to get dropped, but it strikes me that some of the teams who are heading down to League B are in need of a reset.
Some of those already are under way - or at least the federations hope they are. El Salvador fired Hugo Perez after the first matches this window, only to see new manager Rubén de la Barrera debut with a loss to Martinique. Last night, La Selecta at least avoided defeat but couldn’t find a goal and settled for a 0-0 draw that nearly saw Marc Collat’s side win with a Mael Crifar shot off the post in stoppage time.
There’s a lot going wrong with El Salvador’s federation, such that it’s currently being run by a normalization committee. I wouldn’t have moved on from Perez, and El Salvador is going to run into some of the limitations it has, no matter who the manager is.
“We’ve had the chance to see a group that is starting to look like we want it to, as a team and as a big family,” De La Barrera said after the draw. “Today’s match should be an inflection point.”
Going down to League B may also be that type of moment. The player pool could expand, but El Salvador needs the quality in its domestic league to improve and needs to modernize its youth development system.
Haiti’s systemic issues go much deeper, mostly at no fault to the coaching staff or players on the field. Les Grenadiers were hardly the worst team in the competition. In a way, competing as they do with no home base, no true home games, and a federation in chaos based in a country in chaos, is remarkable on its own.
Going back down to League B after rolling through that level just one tournament ago will hurt, but it will give leaders a chance to build a new core for a team that has plenty of talent but lacks consistency.
Dropping to League B also Curacao has a chance to figure itself out, too. Will Dean Gorre be the long-term manager? If he is, will veterans who stayed with their clubs in these windows after this summer’s abrupt firing of manager Remko Bicentini return? The 5-3 win against Trinidad and Tobago to close things out was both an indication that Curacao’s dreams of making the 2026 World Cup aren’t so crazy and a reminder that they’d have a lot of work to do and need a long-term project to get that work done.
And…Grenada, well, it ends up having played eight League A matches in the last two tournaments and getting two total points. Not exactly the type of record that screams “League A team!”
Back-to-backs in B live up to billing
The strange scheduling quirk of teams playing each other home-and-home this window in League B lived up to what we hoped it would. There was extra spice to the second games in many cases, perhaps none more so than in Guyana’s meeting against Puerto Rico.
Both games took place at the same venue, with neither team’s normal home venue currently suitable to host. Even without an impassioned crowd, though, there was an extra level of physicality after Guyana’s 3-1 win in the first meeting.
The scoreline ended up the same, but it was hardly in the bag. Once again, Puerto Rico scored first, and again Guyana clawed back, outlasting Puerto Rico as it undid itself.
“Extremely proud of all the staff and players and very happy for the GFF and our Guyanese people home and abroad,” Guyana manager Jamaal Shabazz said after the match. “Hard-fought and well-deserved victory from our beloved team. We took huge risks to press rather than sit back. They pressed us too”
They did, but it was Guyana that forced far more mistakes, with Puerto Rico functionally setting up the final goal of the game for the Golden Jaguars. Center back and captain Nicolas Cardona picked up a late red card for good measure, capping off a 10-minute stretch that may have been the worst for any individual player this side of Neymar in the October window.
One more point, and Guyana will secure promotion to League A.
In Group A, the back-to-back between St. Lucia and Guadeloupe was supposed to produce clarity but instead saw the teams split their series. Extremely Concacaf views in this one from the Stade Municipal in Sainte-Anne on the Southern portion of Grande-Terre:
The other games in that group also resulted in a split, with Sint Maarten getting its first-ever League B victory by nosing past St. Kitts and Nevis 1-0 in Basseterre days after a Tiquanny Williams hat trick had given SKN a 3-2 win in a wild first meeting.
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The real group of chaos in League B is…
I felt Group B of League B with Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Montserrat and Barbados was prepared to be the most chaotic group in the entire competition. Instead, Nicaragua has been able to exert its dominance even without the numerous ineligible players it was caught fielding in the previous edition(s). While the DR is still hot on their heels, the group is Los Pinoleros’ to lose.
We have true Conca-chaos one group later. French Guiana started the competition with an uninspired scoreless draw against Bermuda and then had a shock home loss to Belize. Meanwhile, St. Vincent and the Grenadines topped both of those teams and led the group with six points ahead of a pair of matches with French Guiana.
The table now looks like this after Les Yana Dòkòs secured a pair of victories over the Vincy Heat to get back in the promotion places:
The second of those games, played at a neutral site with French Guiana unable to host, was one of the more fun matches I saw this window. French Guiana went up 1-0 but conceded an equalizer shortly after. Franz Gaubert sent French Guiana into the locker room with a lead only for Cornelius Stewart to again find a tying goal.
But Jules Haabo scored three minutes after that and French Guiana finally was able to protect its lead in a 3-2 win.
Oh, and don’t look now but Bermuda got a goal in each match against Belize from Kane Crichlow to notch a win and a draw to push the Gombey Warriors to five points, well within striking distance of the summit with November matches against the top two teams coming.
This may be the most evenly matched group in the competition, and it should lead to a thrilling finale next month.
My hunch is that French Guiana once again has found its form, that the September games will be a bump in the road for the non-FIFA team and that League A awaits. The other three teams will try to muck things up as much as possible and end up on the top of the heap.
Second-place promotion spot in League C adds intrigue ahead of final window
League C is for the sickos, and the groups have provided wildly different levels of entertainment. In Group A, Saint Martin already is through - though it could be as best second place team - having run up a 16-1 goal difference in three wins.
In the other two groups, a pair of teams are still alive while one team has just one point.
That promotion place that goes to the best-ranked second-place team means there’s still significant intrigue in the November window. A team like the Cayman Islands isn’t going to win its group with Aruba, but can hold out hope it could earn promotion even after its first win in years, a 2-1 result over the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Our old pals the British Virgin Islands lead their group after a pair of October draws, though they’ve played one more match than Dominica. The Nov. 16 match when Dominica visits the BVI could decide the group.
Even being in that conversation is huge for The Nature Boys after not winning a competitive match for decades.
If they fall short, however, that second-place promotion spot looks tough to achieve.
Bonaire will be heavy favorites to pick up another three points against Anguilla. That would take them to six points, which looks to be the minimum mark to get that place.
But the chance for a team to achieve their League B dreams is keeping things dramatic even as a few long-time strugglers continue to…struggle. Additionally, there remains the chance for some of bottom four teams in the FIFA rankings - specifically the British Virgin Islands - to jump out of that bottom four and avoid the March round of World Cup qualification.
I’ll hopefully have one feature from each League coming in the next week or so and then we’ll be back to league programming, checking in on the Road to the W Gold Cup and looking ahead to the November window.
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