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 first edition of “Concaclusions” gives storylines throughout the region to chew on in the midst of the first international break of the 2019-20 season.
Pressure builds on the Yanks from every angle
Let’s be real: Things simply don’t look rosy for the United States men’s national team at the moment. Even away from their own blunders on the pitch, there was a formidable side doing everything in their power to make the Yanks’ journey over the next few months that much more arduous.
Whether it’s in American football overtime or a penalty shootout, teams often elect to take the first crack at putting points on the board. I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy. Why? Knowing exactly what you must produce in response may have its benefits, but there’s simply no substitute for putting the pressure on your opponent to perform from the outset.
The U.S. don’t have to take the field for Nations League group play until October, but their neighbors to the north have the advantage of bursting out of the gate and did exactly that on Saturday. Canada’s resounding 6-0 win over Cuba will have picked up their collective spirits, as the sting from a shock defeat to Haiti at this summer’s Gold Cup likely still remains.
Arguably no other nation in the region has raised their talent level more in recent years than Canada, and the possibility of challenging the U.S. for the second spot in the region no longer appears to be such a long shot. The first meeting between the Canucks and the Stars and Stripes will take place at Toronto’s BMO Field. That fact, combined with a pair of emphatic results against Cuba, gives Canada a massive boost in their quest of topping the U.S. and clinching a spot in the knockout round.
Bermuda won’t go down without a fight
Sure, Group B of the tournament’s top tier may appear a foregone conclusion considering Mexico head the group, but there is still plenty on the table for the two other competitors. Panama can build on their impressive growth in recent years, most notably their first World Cup appearance last year. Bermuda are on the heels of an impressive qualifying campaign and gritty performances at the Gold Cup, and they will be doing everything possible to avoid relegation to League B.
Most will have pegged Panama to comfortably avoid relegation, though, and everything looked to be going according to script with their 4-1 win in the opening round of group play. Bermuda star Nahki Wells had other ideas, however, and his efforts stole the headlines by way of a brace in a 2-0 away win in the return leg.
Wells should no longer be an unfamiliar face due to his success in English football and staggering scoring rate for the small island nation. The 29-year-old spoke after the final whistle and said that it was a matter of correcting sloppy mistakes that proved the difference in the rematch.
“Bring on Mexico,” he said, looking forward to likely the biggest match in his nation’s history. “At the end of the day, it’s a great experience for all of us.”
Could Curaçao topple the Ticos?
Costa Rica manager Gustavo Matosas resigned from his post last week in one of the latest bizarre happenings in Concacaf. Were poor results or off-field issues to blame? A new opportunity beckoning? Nope, it all spilled from simply a case of boredom.
The Ticos are miles ahead of their Group D opponents in terms of on-field talent and accomplishments in recent years, and Matosas’s resignation doesn’t change that. Nevertheless, there’s perhaps no better time for both Haiti and Curaçao to build on their own recent advancements and make another big splash in the region.
Both sides will be motivated by their knockout round appearances at the Gold Cup and slim defeats. For the time being, I’m rolling with Curaçao due to their opening win. The visitors may have produced a few more chances on goal, but Curaçao held the edge in nearly every other statistic and Elson Hooi came up big in the only category that matters with 20 minutes remaining.
Haiti are not down and out by any means, as they have the second leg to play at home and the two upcoming matches against Costa Rica. Sure, the Central American nation could brush off the uncertainty at the wheel and cruise to the semifinals, but either Curaçao or Haiti may have something to say about that. Let the drama continue!
El Tri’s supremacy on full display
They haven’t embarked on their maiden Nations League voyage just yet, but the kings of Concacaf shredded any remaining doubt that they are head and shoulders above their bitter rivals.
Perhaps no single play encapsulates this chasm more than El Tri’s opening goal.
Jesus “Tecatito” Corona’s craftiness with the ball at his feet left Sergiño Dest’s head spinning on his U.S. debut. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez — also back in the mix following his summer absence — emphatically met Corona’s cross and showed that he has plenty left in the tank shortly after a move to Sevilla.
Berhalter maintained his stance after the game that his men are making progress toward his ultimate vision and he was more pleased with what he saw than in the 1-0 defeat in the Gold Cup final, but it sure is difficult to buy into that logic when the results and performances are simply not up to par. What makes it even tougher to swallow for U.S. fans is watching their rivals soar under new coach Gerardo Martino — 11 consecutive wins in 2019 — all the while changing lineups and bringing several new players into the fold.
Mexico can build on this year’s impressive resume with a result against a Messi-less Argentina on Tuesday. A victory would only compound U.S. fans’ misery, even if they are able to produce a win against their own South American opposition (Uruguay) in their second and final friendly of the month.