By Ryan Rosenblatt / VOAO
The United States learned its group stage opponents for the inaugural Concacaf Nations League at the draw on Wednesday night, when the ping pong balls landed Canada and Cuba in Group A with the Americans.
But what does that mean for the Yanks? Hell, what is the Concacaf Nations League?
Let us explain.
The Nations League is a brand new tournament that will crown a champion on Concacaf. So it’s like the Gold Cup, except that it plays out over months and includes every team in the confederation with promotion and relegation.
It’s … a lot.
There are three leagues – League A, League B and League C. The U.S., along with the five other teams who made the final round of World Cup qualifying automatically qualified for League A in the 2019/20 tournament. The remaining six spots in League A, as well as the League B and C teams, were determined by a qualifying tournament held over the last year.
So let’s zoom in on the part that concerns the U.S. We have is 12 teams in League A, split into four groups of three. They will play the other two teams in the group home and away this October and November. The winners of each group will advance to the Nations League championship round, which will be the semifinals and final to be played in March of 2020.
Win the group, advance to the semifinals, win that and take the final to be crowned Concacaf Nations League champion. Simple enough.
But there is a way it all goes wrong – the last place team in each group will be relegated, with the first place team from a group in League B taking their place in League A the next Nations League.
So the U.S. both wants to play well to make the championship round and play for a trophy, as well as to avoid relegation to League B.
These Nations League matches will take the place of friendlies that the U.S. has previously played in this timespan. Normally, the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020 would be used as a chance to learn from the Gold Cup and build toward the start of World Cup qualifying, but not anymore. Now the U.S. goes straight into another tournament.
Now the question is whether or not the Nations League is going to matter. Will teams and fans take it seriously? Will it have any real stakes?
Time will tell, although it’s hard to imagine it mattering much in Year 1. After all, competitions don’t matter just because you make one. It takes time for them to gain acceptance and gravitas, if it ever happens. But give us a U.S. vs. Mexico clash and, well, it won’t be too hard to get the blood flowing.
There’s also the question of why Concacaf decided to create this competition.
Simply put, it’s not for the U.S.
The Yanks don’t need this tournament. The Nations League is an an opportunity to get the rest of the Concacaf teams competitive matches. They have played a year of qualifiers, and now will play a year of Nations League matches, which is important to these smaller countries who don’t have the same infrastructure, size or money as the top teams. But the only way it works is if the entire confederation is on board, so here’s the U.S., Mexico and the rest in it.
Come the fall, the Americans will be part of the first-ever Nations League. They’ll take on Canada and Cuba at home, plus head abroad to take on both away in matches that can make for fun trips. If they manage first place, a semifinal and, potentially, final is up next.
It’s all part of Gregg Berhalter and Co.’s path to the 2022 World Cup. We’ve had friendlies and next up is the Gold Cup. Then, it’s the Nations League. The U.S. has to play whatever Concacaf and FIFA put in front of them and, in the end, it’s all part of the Redemption Tour.
Plus, a chance to top Mexico for a trophy? We’ll take it.