Nations League: Less attractive games for USMNT, Mexico

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) Soccer’s governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean announced its new CONCACAF Nations League, a format designed to give more competitive matches to smaller nations. But it creates less attractive games for regional powers such as the United States and Mexico.

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The competition announced Wednesday replaces exhibitions on FIFA match dates, similar to the concept adopted by the Union of European Football Associations in 2014, a tournament set to start this September.

For the U.S., the new event means fewer dates for exhibitions against European and South American teams and more matches against Central American and Caribbean rivals.

Those games figure to have less box-office appeal and could make European club coaches more resistant to releasing regular starters to travel long distances for those national team matches.

After failing to qualify for this year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase, the U.S. will not have a competitive match until the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

CONCACAF said the six teams in the final round of World Cup qualifying last year will proceed directly to the Nations League group phase: the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Guatemala will not be in the tournament because it is suspended by FIFA.

The remainder of CONCACAF’s 41 members was drawn to play in qualifying from September through March 2019.

Based on team strength, each advancing nation will be assigned to league A, B or C, and each league will be drawn into groups that will play in a round-robin format on FIFA dates in September, October and November in 2019.

League A group winners will advance to a final round in March 2020 and last-place teams will be relegated to league B, whose group winners will be promoted. League B last-place teams will be relegated to Group C, whose winners will be promoted.

League A will have four groups of three teams, and league B will have four groups of four teams. League C will have four groups.

CONCACAF also said the six teams in last year’s hexagonal and the top 10 teams in qualifying will participate in next year’s Gold Cup, the region’s biennial championship.