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How will the CONCACAF Nations League work?

Here’s a possible format.

United States v El Salvador: Quarterfinal - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With the announcement of a new Nations League that’s set to begin in September 2018, CONCACAF will attempt to form guaranteed matches for each of its 41 member nations. The talk has now shifted to how this will work for each teams and whether it will leave room in an already loaded calendar for friendlies outside the confederation for teams like the United States and Mexico.

CONCACAF has stated that their version of the Nations League will be modeled after UEFA’s Nations League, also commencing in September 2018. How will that work for CONCACAF though? CONCACAF will likely only be working with 5 sets of official FIFA windows with 2 match dates each: September, October and November in 2018, and March and June in 2019. So, it’s plausible that group play will take place in 2018 with a divisional playoff in March and a Final Four in June, where a champion will be crowned.

CONCACAF has decided that its 41 teams will be divided into three divisions (we will call them League A, League B, League C) with promotion and relegation between the divisions. We will divide up the divisions according to the November 2017 rankings, although it is undetermined what coefficient CONCACAF will use for its divisions. Here’s how the CONCACAF League of Nations could be set up:

League A

12 teams: Mexico, United States, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Curaçao, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, El Salvador, Nicaragua

League A would consists of 4 groups of 3, competing in a double round robin where each team will play the others in their group home-and-away. All the teams would be arranged in order of their appearance in the FIFA World Rankings. The top four teams in the FIFA rankings—Mexico, United States, Costa Rica and Jamaica, according to the November 2017 Rankings—would be the seeded teams and drawn from Pot 1 into groups. From there, the next four teams would be in Pot 2 and the remaining teams in Pot 3. The winner of each group would advance to the Final Four, to be played in June 2019, which the 4th place team in each group would be relegated to League B.

League B

13 teams: St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Guatemala, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba

League B would consist of 4 groups, 3 groups containing 3 teams and 1 group with 4 teams, each playing a double round robin home-and-away. Like League A, the teams will be arranged by ranking and placed into Pots. Pot 1 would be St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Guatemala, and Antigua and Barbuda. Pot 2 would be Barbados, Belize, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic. Pot 3 would be the remaining 5 teams: Guyana, Puerto Rico, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba. One group would add a 4th team from Pot 3. The winner of each group would be promoted to League A, while the last place team in each group would advance to the B/C Playoff.

League C

16 teams: St. Lucia, Aruba, Bermuda, U.S. Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Bahamas, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Bonaire, Saint-Martin, Sint Maarten

League C will consist of the 10 lowest ranked CONCACAF teams, and adding the 6 CONCACAF teams that are not a member of FIFA and thus not seeded: French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Bonaire, Saint-Martin, and Sint Maarten. The 16 teams would be drawn into 4 groups of 4 in a double round robin, playing each team home-and-away. The winners of each group will advance to the B/C Playoff.

With this League, there will be no seeded teams. Sure, it’s possible that CONCACAF develops some sort of coefficient to place teams into pots, but the highest ranked team in League C is St. Lucia at #174. Since each of these teams are basically on the same playing field, and to give fairness to the teams that are not FIFA members and thus are not ranked, here we can throw everyone into one pot and draw the groups from there. This group would be intriguing given that 3 of the unranked teams—Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Martinique—have appeared in recent Gold Cups.

League B/C Playoff

8 teams: 4 last place teams from League B, 4 group winners from League C

The League B/C Playoff will allow the 4 bottom teams from League B to face off against the top teams from League C to see who goes to League B and who drops or remains in League C. In this format, League C teams are randomly drawn against the League B teams, and they compete in a 2-legged, home-and-away playoff. The winner on aggregate will be in League B.

With this format, each team will play either 4 or 6 matches during the group stage and then no more than an additional 2 matches if they are in the Final Four or the B/C Playoff. With 10 possible match dates to work with, this will still allow teams like the USMNT, Mexico, Costa Rica, and others to schedule friendlies against teams from other confederations. With the UEFA Nations League operating under a similar calendar, it doesn’t mean the end of European friendlies, and there will also be opportunities for big time matches against teams from South America, Africa and Asia. The one drawback for USMNT fans, like me, that love an island away match, is that for the most part those will not come until the 2020-2021 CONCACAF Nations League, when 4 teams from League B—consisting almost entirely of island nations—get promoted to League A.

There is an added element of using the CONCACAF Nations League to qualify for the Gold Cup, but for the USMNT, Mexico, and Canada, auto-qualification for the tournament means that Nations League will not be needed as an entryway to the biennial confederation tournament. But, for teams that don’t qualify via the Copa Centroamerica or the Caribbean Cup, the League of Nations could serve as a chance to qualify for the tournament in 2019. CONCACAF will need to finalize those details. In the end, while the CONCACAF Nations League will fill much of the initial friendly calendar for the big teams in the region, fans thankfully do not have to say goodbye to matchups against teams outside the region.

What are your thoughts on this CONCACAF Nations League format?