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CONCACAF announces League of Nations, replacing friendlies

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We may be seeing a lot more of the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Mexico and less of the USMNT vs. Portugal in the coming years.

CONCACAF on Thursday announced the creation of a “League of Nations,” taking a page from UEFA’s idea to replace friendlies with matches against similar-ranked opponents, with promotion and relegation across three separate divisions. Matches are expected to begin in September 2018, with the schedule released in early 2018.

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The League of Nations was an idea championed by new CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, declaring a focus back on soccer after too much focus on making money in the past.

“This is a watershed moment for CONCACAF.  By focusing on football to provide all our teams with year-round, quality competition, the League of Nations platform means everyone wins,” Montagliani said.  “This new tournament is highly beneficial to all our Member Associations and fans everywhere, since it provides significant opportunities to play important competitive matches with increased regularity throughout the year.”

While this looks like it will have a great effect for smaller CONCACAF nations like Aruba, the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, giving them more regular games to grow their national teams, it could hurt the USMNT, Mexico and Costa Rica in the long run, with no international dates available to face European or South American sides that could provide great challenges and tests to up and coming players.

Perhaps with the UEFA League of Nations snapping up any of the European nation’s available friendly dates, CONCACAF figured they may as well ensure that the big nations play each other more often, but it could hurt the overall growth of the national teams.

Jurgen Klinsmann once said he’d rather play Belgium one time than El Salvador 100 times, and he’s probably right if U.S. fans want to see their players test themselves against some of the best in the world.

Spain 5-0 Costa Rica: Silva, Morata star in thrashing of Ticos

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After disastrous showings at back-to-back major tournaments — group-stage elimination at the 2014 World Cup, followed by a round-of-16 exit at EURO 2016 (disastrous by their lofty standards) — Spain appear in perfect position to make a deep run at the 2018 World Cup.

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Having qualified directly into next summer’s tournament in Russia on the back of nine wins (and a draw) during their 10-game qualifying campaign, Saturday saw La Furia Roja take on another already-qualified side, rising CONCACAF power Costa Rica, and reiterate to everyone the gulf in class between Europe’s giants and hopefuls from elsewhere.

The final score — 5-0 to the home side — extended Spain’s current unbeaten run to 15 games (their last defeat came at EURO 2016), and was still perhaps flattering for Los Ticos, as it could have easily been 7-0, or 8-0, or worse.

[ MORE: WCQ — Ireland, Denmark all square ahead of decisive second leg ]

1. Jordi Alba smashes a left-footed shot past backup goalkeeper Dany Carvajal (Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas wasn’t called into this camp), the 7th international goal of his career.

2. Alvaro Morata pounces after Carvajal spills the ball inside his own six-yard box — his 13th goal for Spain.

3. David Silva slams home his first of two goals after one Costa Rican defender clears the ball off another.

4. Silva goes it alone this time — he wins the ball back, races into the penalty area and fires past Carvajal.

5. Andres Iniesta carries the ball, unimpeded, 40 yards through the heart of midfield. He fires from nearly 25 yards out and makes it 5-0.

The following is anything but solely based upon Saturday’s result: It’s officially safe to put Spain into the conversation of favorites — alongside the likes of Germany, Brazil and France — ahead of next summer.

CONCACAF World Cup qualifying preview: Panama, Honduras hoping to make it

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One automatic qualification place and one playoff place remain up for grabs as matchday ten of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying gets underway Tuesday evening.

With simultaneous kickoffs at 8 p.m., the U.S. Men’s National Team, Honduras and Panama are all in contention for the final automatic qualifying spot or the playoff place to book a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

The USMNT controls its own destiny and is in with a win and most likely a draw, but Panama and Honduras have one advantage – both are playing at home against teams that have already qualified and have nothing left to play for.

Let’s take a quick look at the other two matches in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying:


Panama vs. Costa Rica

Los Canaleros have never made a World Cup finals. This may be their last chance for a while.

A golden generation of Panamanian players are all getting past their prime together, and this could be their last World Cup cycle together.

With 10 points and a -2 goal differential, Panama are currently in the pole position for the qualifying playoff place that would see them face either Syria or Australia.

But for what it’s worth, Costa Rica doesn’t plan on lying down. They remember how Jonathan Bornstein’s stoppage time goal sent them into the World Cup playoff, where they faced and fell to Uruguay, which went on to make it to the World Cup semifinals in South Africa.

“It will sound rude, but we are not interested in what benefits Panama or Honduras, we are not going to give the qualification to anyone,” Patrick Pemberton, Costa Rica goalkeeper said. “We are very aware of what happened to us in the United States, when they, being qualified, sent us to the playoffs for the World Cup in South Africa. That is why we do not intend to go to Panama to water the classification to anyone, much less to send them to the playoffs, we want to go to add three points, close the tie well.”


Honduras vs. Mexico

Honduras, like Panama has one goal on Tuesday. Make at least the World Cup playoff stage.

All that’s standing in Los Catrachos’ way is Mexico, but it won’t be the same El Tri that dazzled during the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Javier “Chicharito Hernandez received “special permission” to leave the Mexican National Team while star winger Hirving Lozano suffered an elbow injury, forcing him to return to his club PSV Eindhoven for treatment.

Perhaps Honduras then can take advantage of a slightly weaker El Tri to record a crucial win in the Olimpico Metropolitano Stadium, which is always a difficult stadium to play in. Mexico has managed two wins and a draw in its last three trips to San Pedro Sula.

Video: Costa Rica players, fans go bonkers after they book place for 2018 World Cup

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Costa Rica has made three of the last four World Cups, but the soccer-crazy Ticos and their fans are not taking that for granted.

La Sele booked its place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia in dramatic fashion, as Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston powered a header home deep into second half stoppage time to earn a 1-1 draw at home with Honduras and clinch a spot at the World Cup.

[ INSIDE: A look at potential USMNT World Cup qualification scenarios

The goal sent everyone in the stadium and around the tiny nation of around 4.9 million people (around the population of South Carolina) into hysterics. Waston ripped off his jersey and swung it in the air while he and the team slid into the corner. Ticos coach Oscar Ramirez ran around the touchline, looking for fellow coaches to hug and celebrate with.

The Ticos fans, overjoyed at returning to the World Cup, made a cacophony of noise as they jumped and celebrated as one. The goal was so momentous, a local Costa Rican broadcaster repeatedly shouted “World Cup” in Spanish.

Here’s how the momentous goal sounded in Costa Rica:

3rd? 4th? 5th? USMNT’s scenarios for final day of WCQ

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Now that Costa Rica and Honduras (1-1 draw after a 94th-minute Ticos equalizer) have completed matchday no. 9 of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying, you’re probably wondering, “So, what does the U.S. national team have to do in its final game to qualify automatically? How do we end up in the playoff versus Syria or Australia?”

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With Mexico and Costa Rica locked into first and second places, respectively, here’s a look at the current Hex standings, followed by every possible scenario (tiebreakers listed in order, from left to right)…

Team Pts GD GF
Mexico 21 +10 14
Costa Rica 16 +7 13
USA 12 +5 16
Panama 10 -2 7
Honduras 10 -7 10
T&T 3 -13 5

[ MORE: Pulisic, Altidore feel “all the emotions” as WC dreams rescued ]

USMNT WILL FINISH THIRD IF…

  • 1) USA beats T&T
  • 1) USA draws T&T; 2) Panama fails to beat Costa Rica AND recover a 7-goal goal-differential disadvantage; OR 2) Honduras fails to beat Mexico AND recover 12-goal goal-differential disadvantage
  • 1) USA loses vs. T&T; 2) Panama draws or loses vs. Costa Rica; 3) Honduras draws or loses vs. Mexico

[ RECAP: USMNT routs Panama to boost World Cup dreams in a big way ]

USMNT WILL FINISH FOURTH IF…

  • 1) USA draws T&T; 2) Panama beats Costa Rica AND recovers a 7-goal goal-differential disadvantage; OR 2) Honduras beats Mexico AND recovers 12-goal goal-differential disadvantage
  • 1) USA loses vs. T&T; 2) Panama beat Costa Rica; 3) Honduras draw or lose vs. Mexico; OR 2) Honduras beat Mexico; 2) Panama draws or loses vs. Costa Rica

[ VIDEOS: Pulisic makes it 1-0 after 8′Pulisic to Altidore for no. 2 ]

USMNT WILL FINISH FIFTH IF…

  • 1) USA draws vs. T&T; 2) Panama beats Costa Rica AND recovers 7-goal goal-differential disadvantage; AND 3) Honduras beats Mexico AND recovers 12-goal goal-differential disadvantage
  • 1) USA loses vs. T&T; 2) Panama beats Costa Rica; 3) Honduras beats Mexico

There you have it, so which of the above is it going to be on Tuesday? Will the Yanks finish third, fourth or fourth?