One of the tournaments that will begin next year for the United States Men’s National Team is CONCACAF Nations League. Similar to the Nations League that UEFA began this fall, the CONCACAF Nations League will be a competition that fills a lot of the open schedule that would normally be reserved for international friendlies. The USMNT will be assigned to a league with 11 other teams from CONCACAF, where they will be drawn into groups for a double round robin, home and away.
Before the Nations League begins, CONCACAF must determine which teams will be in the three leagues. Nations League qualification also serves as a pathway for several teams to qualify for next summer’s newly-expanded Gold Cup. The teams that made the Hex—the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago—were given automatic entry to the Gold Cup and will be in League A once the Nations League begins. For the rest, Nations League qualifying (and Gold Cup eligibility) began this fall.
Teams were split into 4 pots based on the March 2018 FIFA World Rankings, with teams being drawn to play one team from each pot, with the teams organized into a single table. The top 6 teams in the table after the 4 matches will not only qualify for next summer’s Gold Cup, but also join the Hex teams in League A. The teams that finish 7th through 10th would be in League B, but also qualify for the Gold Cup to round out the tournament field. Teams that finish 7th through 22nd would all qualify for League B (16 teams). The remaining teams would begin Nations League in League C.
So, after 3 matchdays, who has a realistic shot at League A and the Gold Cup?
As of right now, Curaçao, Haiti, Canada, Cuba, Jamaica, and Martinique are the teams that would join the Hex teams in League A, while also joining them in the Gold Cup. Bermuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua currently occupy the spots that would also see them in the Gold Cup next summer.
Still, entering the 4th and final matchday, there are a number of teams that could either move up to League A or move into position to qualify for the Gold Cup. Here are the matchups, to take place next March:
British Virgin Islands vs. Turks & Caicos
St. Vincent & the Grenadines vs. Bonaire
Anguilla vs. U.S. Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands vs. Montserrat
Guyana vs. Belize
Suriname vs. St. Kitts & Nevis
Guadaloupe vs. Martinique
El Salvador vs. Jamaica
Puerto Rico vs. Grenada
Haiti vs. Cuba
Dominican Republic vs. Bermuda
Barbados vs. Nicaragua
Antigua vs. Curaçao
St. Lucia vs. Aruba
Sint Maarten vs. Saint Martin
Dominica vs. Bahamas
Canada vs. French Guiana
(Bold - Teams in League A, Gold Cup position; Italics - Teams in League B, Gold Cup position)
Of these matchups, the only one where both teams can help themselves with a draw is Haiti and Cuba, who only need a draw to secure their spot in League A and the Gold Cup. The Dominican Republic and Bermuda are both teams that are in the zone that would see them in League B and the Gold Cup. It will be an important test for both teams as they try to win to possibly replace move past Martinique or Jamaica into League A. For other teams, their hope will be to win and win huge and hope teams ahead of them drop points to give them a shot to get one of the Gold Cup spots or a spot in League A.
The USMNT will likely be keeping an eye on how this plays out in March as they learn who would join them in the new League A of CONCACAF Nations League and also the Gold Cup next summer. Some of the teams that the USMNT have played in recent World Cup qualifiers, like Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and El Salvador. are way down in the standings and would need a ton of help to get into Gold Cup or League A position. Guatemala, a team that the USMNT has faced often during World Cup qualifying recently, was suspended by FIFA and ineligible for CONCACAF competitions, so they will not feature in the Gold Cup or this edition of Nations League. It could be an opportunity to see the team play some unfamiliar competition.
CONCACAF Nations League may not pack the flair of the UEFA version, but it’s still a competition that will give the USMNT, and new coach Gregg Berhalter, an opportunity to play competitive matches against regional opponents, including away matches in some hostile environments. Fans will do well to keep an eye on qualification in March to find out who the USMNT could see down the road.