Group D in League A of the Concacaf Nations League features the two darlings of the 2019 Gold Cup in Haiti and Curacao, joined by favorites Costa Rica. In addition to Group C, this could very well be the most highly contested portion of the top tier. The Central Americans are still looking to rekindle the flames from their magical 2014 World Cup run, while the two island nations are both aiming to continue their recent success and rise to the upper echelon of the region.
The group favorites will be seeking a deep run after a bit of a disappointing end to their Gold Cup. A loss to Mexico should never be cause for shame, but it was more about how their predicament came about that will have likely left stains of regret.
The Ticos will have a chance to exact revenge in a relatively short time. Although they already had their place in the knockout round secure, Costa Rica were upset by Haiti in the final group game at the Gold Cup by a score of 2-1. This result handed them second place in the group and forced them to play Mexico in the quarterfinals, where they ultimately came up short in a penalty shootout.
Like the other highest seeds in League A, Costa Rica will not jump into the action until October. They begin their slate of fixtures on Thursday, October 10, with a trip to take on Haiti. FC Cincinnati’s Allan Cruz is one of the brightest young talents on the squad, and Ticos fans will have their fingers crossed in the hopes that Concacaf legend Keylor Navas will return to the fray after missing out on the Gold Cup.
The second-smallest nation by population in League A has every right to believe they can progress to the semifinals. Curacao rode the momentum of solid qualifying campaign with a plus 20 goal differential into the Gold Cup and produced a last-gasp goal against Jamaica to progress to the quarterfinals. They can keep their heads high after giving the United States all they could handle in a 1-0 defeat.
The Curacao defense never allowed more than a single goal through four matches this summer. Goalkeeper Eloy Room is one to watch for the Dutch Caribbean island. His standout performances at the Gold Cup earned him a contract with the Columbus Crew after his time with the PSV reserves had come to an end. At 30 years of age, the shot stopper should still have plenty left in the tank and has already notched six appearances since arriving in MLS. In the middle of the park, Leandro Bacuna will look to provide stability and carries valuable experience playing in England. He currently suits up for Cardiff City in the second division and has gone the full 90 in all three of their matches in August.
Curacao will need to get off to a good start if they are to take the group. They kick off group play on September 7 against Haiti and play the reverse fixture three days later, before they face Costa Rica back-to-back in October and November.
The Haitians are fresh off a Gold Cup semifinal appearance after winning their group for the first time in the modern area. They capped off a spotless group run with their surprise win over Costa Rica and subsequently provided the performance of the tournament, coming from behind in the second half to eliminate Canada 3-2 in the quarters. They left it all out on the pitch — even striking the woodwork late in the game — in a 1-0 loss to Mexico.
Derrick Etienne Jr. will be hoping to settle quickly after his recent move from the New York Red Bulls to FC Cincinnati and be a pillar in Haiti’s midfield moving forward. They proved they can share the load going forward, as six different players contributed to their nine goals in June and July. 24-year-old forward Frantzdy Pierrot has enjoyed a quality start to life with the national team with five goals in 11 appearances, and he recently began his European season with Belgian outfit Royal Excel Mouscron.