Berhalter With A Decision To Make, Canada's Vicious Attack & A Growing Cuba

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Group A of the inaugural Concacaf Nations League offers no shortage of intriguing storylines. 

Canada are a team on the rise and will get the chance to prove their worth against the other perennial Concacaf power after having their shot at taking down Mexico at this summer’s Gold Cup. Cuba can salvage some pride after a disappointing tournament, while the U.S. have plenty of questions to answer in the aftermath of their runner-up finish.

The first edition of the tournament will undoubtedly be more important for Canada and Cuba in light of Concacaf’s new World Cup qualifying format, but it does offer a great opportunity for the U.S. to grow under Gregg Berhalter and go after bragging rights in the region following their loss to El Tri in the final. A home-and-home series between each team will result in the group winner advancing to the semifinals and the last-place finisher relegated to League B.

Canada

The Canucks are still kicking themselves after capitulating in a 3-2 quarterfinal loss to Haiti at the Gold Cup and have the most to gain in the group. Jonathan David stole the show by scoring six times to take home the Golden Boot award, and his side often looked a team ready to turn the corner. You could even make an argument that the 3-1 scoreline in their loss to Mexico flattered the victors, but their run came to a screeching halt when they let a 2-0 halftime lead slip away in knockout play.

The Canadians will be looking to gauge their progress when they take on the Yanks and prove they belong, but they will also need to produce impressive performances whenever they take the field over the next year to improve their ranking in the region. They currently sit in the eighth position, meaning they will need to move up two spots if they are to guarantee a spot in the Hexagonal round.

Lucas Cavallini has taken his game to new heights since joining Puebla in Liga MX in 2017 and was no slouch at the Gold Cup with five goals to his name. The 26-year-old has an impressive 10 goals over the last year, and Canada’s young defensive unit will need to develop quickly to aid Cavallini and their other offensive talents if they are to finish atop the group and advance to the semifinals in March.

Cuba

The minnows of Group A put together an impressive qualifying run — three shutout wins that included an 11-0 thumping of Turks and Caicos — to punch their ticket to the 2019 Gold Cup. The big stage wasn’t so kind to Cuba, however, as they failed to find the back of the net in three losses in Group A while conceding a staggering 17 times. 

The vast majority of the squad suit up in the Cuban National Football League, with a few exceptions plying their trade in nearby Concacaf nations. Luis Paradela of Guatemalan outfit Universidad SC is one to watch when they take the pitch this fall. Able to play at any position in attack, he propelled his side through qualifying with five goals. Cuba kick off their Nations League campaign with a trip to BMO Field on Saturday, September 7, before facing the Canucks just three days later at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in the Cayman Islands. Their two matches against the U.S. come on October 11 and November 19, the final day of fixtures.

United States

The Yanks enter the competition in October with an opening match against Cuba.

The biggest question ahead of the tournament is whether Berhalter will gather a full-strength squad to secure a trophy at all costs or use the set of fixtures as a chance to call in a host of younger, unproven players as part of his long-term vision. Perhaps the answer will be somewhere in the middle.

Their spot in the Hex is virtually secure thanks to the new format, but the U.S. should expect to be in the mix until the very end regardless of who’s called up given the depth of the player pool in comparison to the vast majority of Concacaf nations. Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent — who narrowly missed out on the Gold Cup roster — Lille’s Timothy Weah, Chris Richards of Bayern Munich, and Hannover’s Sebastian Soto are a few of the Europe-based youngsters who could see action. Nineteen-year-old Paxton Pomykal of FC Dallas will be hoping his recent performances domestically will book a ticket to shine with the senior team.

First Half Own Goal Gives D.C. United Huge Victory Over Portland Timbers

In 90 minutes of rain, D.C. United emerged victorious in the Pacific Northwest, benefitting from an own goal in a 1-0 win against the Portland Timbers. Bill Tuiloma knocked in Ulises Segura's cross in the 25th minute, giving United their second consecutive win, both of which came away from the friendly confines at Audi Field. The win elevated the Black-and-Red to fourth place in the Eastern Conference, a position that could change depending on other results on Sunday.

D.C. United In Position To Solidify Playoff Position With PDX Trip

After two weeks off for the international break, D.C. United are back in action on Sunday afternoon as they travel cross-country to take on the Portland Timbers. A win could see the Black-and-Red vault back into fourth place in the Eastern Conference after they were surpassed midweek by Toronto FC, who moved into fourth on the goal differential tiebreaker. Both teams currently occupy a playoff spot at the moment but need a win to cement their standing.

4 Notes From The Opening Rounds Of The Concacaf Nations League

The opening two rounds of the Concacaf Nations League are in the books, and we now have a clearer picture of which nations might punch their tickets to bigger and better things or tumble down into a lower league. 

Final 4 Weeks Of MLS Season Should Provide Plenty Of Drama

With the new schedule this year, Major League Soccer has a couple more sprints before the finish of the 2019 season. With the new playoff schedule, the second season is much shorter this year, after having to deal with the November international window smack dab in the middle of the playoffs. This year the playoffs are sandwiched between the October and November FIFA windows, which will help produce an MLS Cup winner in a whirlwind of a playoff schedule.

The Gap Between US & Mexico Is Widening On The International Stage

Rewind the tape to last September, when the USA and Mexico faced off in a friendly in Nashville. Tyler Adams helped the USMNT grab a 1-0 victory under the guidance of interim manager Dave Sarachan. What might be most memorable from that game, though, was the towering center back Matt Miazga reminding Mexican youngster Diego Lainez just how much shorter the then 18-year-old was than Miazga.

Trinidad & Tobago Struggle In Opening Rounds Of Concacaf Nations League

Though it may have been just a consolation prize considering their last-place finish in the Hex, Trinidad & Tobago’s shocking win over the United States at the tail end of 2017 was ample reason for the small nation to celebrate. 

4 Games Left To Decide D.C. United's MLS Playoff Standing

The last time D.C. United took the field in a competitive MLS game, they did their playoff chances a world of good. In a crucial showdown against the Montreal Impact on August 31, the Black-and-Red repeatedly punched their opponents in the mouth over the first 45 minutes of the game, picking up a 3-0 win that massively helped ease the pressure on a playoff race that was rapidly tightening up.

Concaclusions, Ep. 1: Nations League Matchday 1 & Mexico Dominate USA

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From clutch finishes to a surprise resignation, the last week of Concacaf action featured just about everything imaginable as the inaugural Nations League is now underway. Away from the opening round of the tournament, Mexico were busy flexing their muscles in front of a rain-soaked crowd at MetLife Stadium. 

The Favorites Roll, Curaçao Narrowly Beats Haiti & More From Days 2 & 3

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The past two days of the Concacaf Nations League has provided plenty of drama, decisive results, and world-class goals for everyone to enjoy. With games across all three leagues in the competition, some storylines are already beginning to play out throughout the competition, as we move on to the second match day, beginning on Monday.

Unexpected Concacaf Twist: Gustavo Matosas Stepping Down Because Of Boredom

The Concacaf Nations League began play this week and is sure to provide plenty of drama on the field over the next couple of months. Countries are vying to move to the semifinal round, or avoid relegation, or even jump up a league through promotion. There's always some element of unpredictability in these games, leading to shock results and standout performances from unheralded players.