Discover more from Getting CONCACAFed
👀 What to watch in September's Concacaf Nations League games
The road to the Copa América starts here, but there's not always ferry service.
The pressure is on the North American managers (which you can read about in Tuesday’s premium newsletter), but thanks to the current Concacaf Nations League format, it won’t be this window.
While the three North American teams plus Costa Rica square off with AFC foes (or, in the case of Canada, do nothing), the rest of the men’s national teams in the region will be in Concacaf action.
Even though World Cup qualification won’t start until 2024, this has the feeling of a new cycle. New players are getting looks. Many teams have new managers leading the way.
Let’s look at a few questions we’ll be closer to answering after this month’s international matches:
Which Concacaf teams will make Copa América?
Remember: In addition to the Nations League Final Four - finally in March after several years of pandemic push-around meaning it took place a month before a Gold cup - League A teams also are looking for qualification to the 2024 Copa América.
The teams are broken up into groups of six. They will not play round-robin, but rather “Swiss style”, a format first used in a Zurich chess tournament in 18951. The top two teams in the group go into home-and-home playoff games against the four seeded teams (U.S., Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica) with the winners of those series locking up spots in the Copa América.
The losers also will have another crack, facing off against each other in playoff games.
So, you can’t qualify for the 2024 Copa América in September, but you can take yourself out of contention.
Guatemala and Jamaica have huge opportunities to pick up six points in the opening window, just by virtue of hosting both contests. The Reggae Boyz welcome Honduras and Haiti, while Guatemala’s road to six points will be tougher as El Salvador and Panama visit.
Of course, that means those teams are going on the road for the rest of the tournament, so consecutive stumbles from Los Chapines or Jamaica would mean an all-but-impossible road to the Copa América.
Panama feels they shouldn’t even be in this round, and they’re probably right. After beating Costa Rica twice in the previous Nations League, the Ticos still were given the bye thanks to their position in the Concacaf rankings.
Panama backed its case as one of Concacaf’s top-four teams and the best national team in Central America by making a run to the Gold Cup final.
“I don’t like this Swiss format,” Panama’s Danish-born manager Thomas Christiansen said. “It doesn’t make sense, but here we have to abide by what Concacaf says. The format is the same for everybody. It doesn’t help us, but we have to compete.”
Like it or not, they’re in these games and now need to make another statement.
Mostly staying in League A:
Will there be Caribbean continuity after a strong Gold Cup?
I’ve been covering this region long enough to be skeptical about most ‘regional’ trends. One Gold Cup it looks like Central America is going to start hanging with Mexico and the U.S. The next, a couple island nations break through and editors are asking for pieces about the rise of the Caribbean.
With Jamaica making the semifinals of the last Gold Cup, it’s fair to wonder if the balance of power is swinging back to the Caribbean and away from Central America.
I like Jamaica’s chances to keep making noise. Jamaica always has had talent. The issue has been continuity. Heimir Hallgrímsson has brought in the core of his Gold Cup team, with fearsome attacking trio Leon Bailey, Michail Antonio and newly signed Al-Ettifaq attacker Demarai Gray.
He’s tried to beef up the problematic central midfield spot and continues to deploy goalkeeper Andre Blake behind a veteran defense.
In short, this CNL is a great chance for Jamaica to show progress, and it starts with the home stand.
Apart from the Reggae Boyz, though, I’m not sure where the breakthrough comes from.
Trinidad and Tobago is missing its best player, Levi Garcia, because of injury while other veterans stay away because of a dispute with manager Angus Eve.
Curacao also seems to be in some level of chaos, with neither veteran center back Cuco Martina nor goalkeeper Eloy Room in this squad and other long-time internationals also pulling out. There is frustration that Remko Bicentini was let go after an early exit from the Gold Cup, even as former Suriname boss Dean Gorre (whose son Kenji is one of the team’s forwards) takes over as interim.
Cuba struggled mightily at the Gold Cup after an impressive Nations League campaign. Martinique was spared from relegation only because the format change meant nobody got sent down from League A. And Suriname was bounced from the Gold Cup at the qualification stage.
If there’s going to be a Caribbean revolution in Concacaf, it’s going to take more than just one country flying the flag.
Can quick risers shake up League B?
Three of the four teams that were promoted from League C ended up in the same League B group, with St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Sint Maarten all in Group A with Guadeloupe.
Right off the bat, that hints that those teams won’t be overmatched despite going up a category. After all, 50 percent of their opponents were at the same level in the last competition.
Guadeloupe still will be favored to win the group and move up to League A, but there is real momentum behind all three promoted teams.
St. Kitts and Nevis locked up Gold Cup qualification for the first time and despite failing to score in any group game showed signs of the program it has put in place to build for the future already working.
Saint Lucia didn’t even try to qualify for the World Cup and fell in its Gold Cup qualification opener, but under the leadership of Stern John the team is placing more players abroad and improving.
And while Sint Maarten is tiny, it continues to draw on the unique blend of lower-division players in the Netherlands with U.S. college players - plus Sweden based forward Chovanie Amatkarijo - and punch above its weight.
None of them look likely to get past Guadeloupe, but an opening match today at St. Kitts and Nevis before hosting Sint Maarten looks tricky. No matter what Les Gwada Boys do, at least two teams who came up will stay up.
Which League C minnow has a big bite?
Plenty of small teams have gotten the script, so to say, and there will be a lot of foreign-born players making their debuts in the September window.
Who would be the next League C team to get to League B and make some noise? The obvious candidate is Bonaire.
Bonaire fell just short of League B and a place in the Gold Cup qualifiers last time around. It has three foreign-based players, a new manager in Rilove Janga and now plays home matches on the island.
It will be locked into a showdown with Saint Martin, which has secured commitments from Azerbaijan-based forward Keelan Lebon and Romuald Lacazette, cousin of current Lyon and former Arsenal forward Alexandre2
Elsewhere, keep an eye out for a surge from Aruba in Group B and Turks and Caicos Islands in Group C. Any other winner in those three-team groups would take me by surprise.
Group of the CNL, brought to you by Concachaos
The addition of Copa América qualification coming with League A success means I’ll be watching those games closely. But, if you just want a chaotic group that doesn’t have a clear winner or loser, I’m circling Group B of League B.
Nicaragua is only in League B as punishment after fielding a number of ineligible players during the past cycle.
The only naturalized players on Marco Antonio Figueroa’s list for this month’s game are: Matías Moldskred Belli, eligible through his mother, Jacob Montes, eligible through his father, Christian Reyes, eligible thanks to his mother, Juan Luis Perez, who I couldn’t find info on but who has represented Nicaragua since the U-20 level, Nextaly Rodríguez, eligible through his father, and Jaime Moreno, eligible through his father.
That’s to say: It looks like everyone is actually eligible, a pleasant change from the past!
Nicaragua opens against the Dominican Republic, then hosts a Barbados team with a new manager and some returning faces in new places such as now Irish-based forward Nadre Butcher.
The DR has recently been taking every step it can to become a soccer powerhouse, with manager Marcelo Neveleff also getting some new recruits in and promoting the best of the DR’s standout youth teams.
Rounding out the group is Montserrat, which will hope to continue being relevant even as it changes managers and some personnel from previous Cinderella runs. Nico Gordon, a Birmingham City player currently on loan, is one new recruit for the Emerald Boys.
Unfortunately for Montserrat, any home-field advantage it might have is off because of ferry service issues.
I’m telling you. This group could get weird.
Keep an eye out for more newsletters as the international window gets going, and join the conversation in the Discord.
Plus, I’m still popping up on Twitter and maybe a couple other places too, soon.
This is real. I’m not making this up. I don’t know why this is the format.
Himself eligible for Guadeloupe before being cap-tied by France