While the Mexico-U.S. final and result was what most of us expected, this summer’s edition of the Concacaf Gold Cup offered no shortage of drama and captivating storylines.
There was Curacao, who pulled off their first-ever win at the tournament and gave the U.S. all they could handle in a 1-0 quarterfinal loss. Then you had Haiti, who impressively won their group, rose from the dead in the quarterfinals to kick out Canada, and took Mexico to the brink in a 1-0 defeat. Even Martinique made things interesting in a narrow 3-2 loss to El Tri in the final fixture.
Now, particularly in light of the new World Cup Qualifying format that prioritizes FIFA World Rankings and makes it more difficult for the minnows to make noise, the inaugural Concacaf Nations League is a perfect opportunity for many of its participants to grow thanks to more competitive matches on the calendar than ever and make progress toward the upper echelons of the region.
Here are three nations who arguably have the most to gain in their respective leagues.
Canada | League A
Our friendly neighbors to the north are growing as a footballing nation and have every right to believe they can soon compete with the best given the talent they’ve been producing in recent years. They’re likely still lamenting an ugly exit from the Gold Cup at the hands of Haiti, but they have the chance to pick up right where they left off in the Nations League.
The new club season will be pivotal for young talents Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, which in turn will go a long way in determining whether or not Canada can close the gap with Mexico and the U.S. in the near future. They are set to square off with Cuba and the Stars and Stripes in Group A of League A, and it’s likely the best time to catch the Gold Cup runners-up.
The pressure will be on U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter to field many of the young talents who were not included in the tournament, so a full-strength Canada lineup could do some damage and potentially win the Group to advance to the final rounds. They have a perfect opportunity to take a step toward doing so with the first of back-to-back matches against the U.S. being held at BMO Field in Toronto.
Montserrat | League B
Think a nation of roughly 5,000 people can make a splash in Concacaf play? You bet they can. To put their minute size into perspective, the smallest nation in the 16-team Gold Cup was Bermuda, a population of 65,000. Despite a current regional ranking of 29 and FIFA ranking of 169, Montserrat came within a whisker of partaking in the 2019 Gold Cup as they finished in 11th in Nations League qualifying ahead of the tournament, just one spot back of the magic line.
They will be looking to build on an impressive return of three wins out of four in qualifying when they face off in Group B against the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, and El Salvador. A bit of revenge will be at play as well, as El Salvador dealt Montserrat their lone defeat by a score of 2-1 after they had taken a first-half lead.
Brandon Comley is one player to keep an eye on in League B play. The 23-year-old came through the Queens Park Rangers youth academy and bounced around several clubs on loan after making his senior debut in 2014, but he made a permanent move to League Two side Colchester United in 2017 and has plied his trade their ever since. His first international appearances came last fall, and his development over the next year will be key to Montserrat's chances of punching above their weight once again.
Guatemala | League C
Just three years ago Guatemala took down the Yanks 2-0 in a pivotal World Cup Qualifying match, but the days of Carlos Ruiz terrorizing back lines and keeping the Central American nation in games against superior opponents are in the rearview mirror.
Nevertheless, Guatemala still have the talent to be right in the mix with the likes Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador, and others who generally fight it out in the second tier under the U.S. and Mexico.
“Los Chapines” — who did not enter qualifying due to a FIFA-imposed suspension — will take part in League C, where they should settle for nothing less than steamrolling their group opponents Puerto Rico and Anguilla. They had the rug yanked from under them due to corruption in their federation and subsequent FIFA punishment, but the Nations League is the perfect chance to regain their footing and provides a platform to for a roster that primarily plays Guatemala’s Liga Nacional de Fútbol.