Let’s take a quick break from MLS action, get our breathing under control and watch some international soccer for a change of pace. Sound good? I thought so.
The month of June is going to be filled with Concacaf matches of all shapes and sizes, with two trophies up for grabs and some exciting storylines to track through both tournaments. Strap in, folks; this is going to be an awesome month. Consider it an action-packed appetizer for the main course that is the 2023 Women’s World Cup, scheduled to kick off in late July.
I’ve taken the liberty of Loonifying a quick guide to both the Nations League and the Gold Cup. When you’re done reading this thing, you’ll be the most prepared fan on whichever side of the Mississippi you live on.
What better way to start the international window than a couple of semi-finals? The 2023 Concacaf Nations League is finally coming to a head this week, with Canada facing Panama and the USA taking on their eternal rivals, Mexico, in the semis.
The lone Loon in this competition is Canada’s Dayne St. Clair, who will be in the Canucks’ squad for both competitions this summer. DSC is one of just four MLS-based players selected by John Herdman in this window, with a large contingent of European-based players filling out the majority of the squad. Former MLS standouts Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan, and Alphonso Davies headline the list, rounding out an impressive roster.
Much like the rest of the region, Panama’s squad has begun to change in composition. Several European and South American-based players come into this camp, as well as MLS regulars Anibal Godoy and Adalberto Carrasquilla. Though they play with a lot of heart and aren’t lacking in skill, Thomas Christiansen’s men will be hard-pressed to get any positive results in this stacked final four lineup.
The perpetually young American squad includes recent dual-national commit Folarin Balogun for the first time, a welcome sight for the rabid fans that convinced him to switch his allegiance from England. With most of the usual suspects available and in camp, the Yanks will be primed and ready to defend their title.
Mexico’s roster is missing some familiar faces, with Andrés Guardado’s retirement from international football and Hache Hache’s absence leaving big shoes for the next generation to fill. World Cup star Luis Chavez could be the answer his country needs, but it will take more than free kicks to cement his spot in the lineup.
When you make it this far in any competition, there’s plenty of reason to believe that you could lift a trophy at the end of it all. But it’s no fun to say that anyone could win, so I’m not going to say that.
I’m not going to surprise anybody with my take here, but Concacaf is rarely a surprising federation. Obviously, the winner of the match between the traditional superpowers of the USA and Mexico will be favored to win the title. However, Canada cannot be ignored any longer after their impressive results in World Cup qualifying. That team was running high on motivation, though, and I doubt they’ll be able to muster the same kind of quality without the same quality of prize at the end of the tunnel. Panama is liable for the occasional upset, but two giants might be too many for David to slay this time around.
Ready for a prediction? Too bad, I’m saving them for the end.
Both semi-finals are slated for June 15, with Canada v. Panama kicking off at 6:00 p.m. CT and USA v. Mexico starting at 9:00. The winners will battle for the trophy in Las Vegas on June 18, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. CT.
The Nations League is alright, but everyone knows the real fun is coming in the Gold Cup. More Loons equals more fun; isn’t that a federal law or something? We could see as many as three MNUFC boys participating in this one. Zarek Valentin and Puerto Rico are still hoping to qualify for one of the three remaining spots in the tournament, while Joseph Rosales and Honduras have already secured their spot in Group B. As always, DSC will be there with his maple-syrup-loving teammates.
Qualifying kicks off on Friday, June 16, and wraps up on the 20th. The tournament proper begins on June 24, when the USA plays Jamaica at 8:30 p.m. CT. This competition follows a traditional tournament format; four groups of four will play a round-robin opening round, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout stage. From there, it’s anyone’s game; however, I expect to see the usual suspects making their way to the later stages with relative ease.
The first group is currently made up of Jamaica, Nicaragua, and the USA, with the fourth member yet to qualify. The obvious favorites to advance here have to be Jamaica and the Americans, with the Reggae Boyz hoping to pull off the upset and top the group outright.
In Group B, we have Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, and guests Qatar, making their second consecutive Gold Cup appearance. This will likely be the most competitive bunch with the highest potential for chaos, but the oddsmakers will back Mexico and Qatar to make it out.
This group doesn’t have any of the huge Concacaf names, but it has two capable dark horses in Costa Rica and Panama. El Salvador has had some success in the past, but the current iteration of the team probably won’t be enough to knock off the aforementioned sides. I don’t see any of the qualifying teams making much of a difference here either.
The final group is likewise waiting on its final member, with Canada, Cuba, and Guatemala already secured. Regardless of the nation that rounds out this crew, Canada should absolutely run away with this one; the only question is, who will finish second?
If you had to pick one tournament to watch, I’d tell you to watch the Gold Cup. But you don’t have to, do you? Watch them both, love them both, and drink in all of the glorious Concacaf action that you’ve been craving for months. I’m officially backing the USA to take both titles; I don’t even care if they use two totally different squads between the two tournaments, or if they even have a coach for either one. It’s hardly summer without soccer, and we’re about to get things rolling in the best way possible.