The second edition of the CONCACAF Nations League Finals starts on June 15th in Las Vegas Nevada, and there are four teams all eying the trophy. It’s our first real test of where the hierarchy in CONCACAF stands post-World Cup and there is reason to believe each team left has a chance.
On a rainy, stormy day in Mexico City, El Tri did just enough to hold off Jamaica in a 2-2 which meant they won Group A with eight points. It wasn’t pretty, but Mexico as always is in the conversation for silverware. The team is a little hard to gauge at the moment, head coach Tata Martino was let go after a poor World Cup where Mexico failed to get out of a World Cup group for the first time since 1978, and replacement Diego Cocca has only been in charge for two competitive games.
There isn’t the same fear factor around Mexico as years gone by, they looked very vulnerable during World Cup 2022 qualifying as well as their Nations League campaign. The team come into the Nations League Finals as the lowest-seeded side, something that would’ve seemed inconceivable just a few years ago. But it’s still Mexico, they still have dangerous players like Edson Álvarez, Érick Gutiérrez, and Hirving Lozano, and with the tournament being played in the South Western United States, they should have a big following inside Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.
I don’t think this current Mexico team is better than the current United States team, but I don’t think it will be easy for the States. If everything goes right for Mexico on the day, they’re certainly capable here of a historical victory over their fierce rivals.
Eager to prove that their World Cup qualifying run wasn’t a fluke, Canada went about dismantling their Nations League opponents last March, winning 2-0 in Curaçao and comfortably 4-1 against Honduras in a winner-takes-all clash. John Herdman set his team up with a back three in both of those games, and the new formation allowed the Canada midfield three to thrive!
Jonathan Osorio, Ismaël Koné, Stephen Eustáquio played exceptionally well together in March, and barring an injury all three will be expected to retain their spots in the side. This Nation Leagues Final is coming at a good time for Canada; they have the best player in the region in Alphonso Davies, Alistair Johnston should be back from injury, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin (since his move to Real Valladolid) have both been on fire for their respective clubs this season and the team overall probably has the best chemistry of any team left in the competition. When the players put on a Canada jersey, they are ready to run through a wall for John Herdman.
There is genuine expectation for this team to win something. This summer provides two chances with the Nations League and the GOLD Cup, winning neither will be considered a failure. Canada and Herdman will lift a lot of pressure off themselves if they can win a trophy in Vegas this June, from there, the sky is the limit!
United States of America
Ohhh boy, where to begin with this team (and federation) off the pitch. Gregg Berhalter is no longer manager…but is still in the running to be the new manager. Also a looooooot of dirty laundry involving Gregg Berhalter, Claudio Reyna, both of their wives and Reyna’s son Giovani has been thrown on the ground. I would urge you to Google the whole affair if you aren’t familiar with it. Overall it’s an embarrassing look for US Soccer.
The team has the perfect opportunity to put that behind them, interim manager (their second interim manager since the World Cup) B. J. Callaghan‘s men will be the hosts for the Finals and would consider themselves favourites. Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adam’s, Tim Ream, Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson are all amongst the best players in the region. The team also now has a new X-Factor, Reims striker Folarin Balogun has committed his international career to the US, and has twenty-one goals in Ligue 1 this season.
It’s worth mentioning though a lot of the States star players like McKennie, Pulisic, Aaronson, Timo Weah and Sergino Dest have either underperformed or regressed this season- so it will be interesting to see if playing for their country can help them regain form. US play Mexico in their Semi-final match, and they have only lost one of their last six against their fierce rival. If any fixture can bring the USMNT together and help them focus, it’s a game against Mexico.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Last, but not least is Panama – who alongside the USMNT had the highest points total of any team in the Nations League (10 points). Los Canaleros secured their qualification with a 1-0 win away to CONCACAF heavy-weights Costa Rica, setting them up for a Semi-Final against Canada.
Panama won’t be expected to win this competition, but there is reason for optimism. Panama won their last outing against Canada, and they also won 1-0 against the States at home during the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualification cycle.
In CONCACAF, bad teams don’t do the double over Costa Rica. Panama shouldn’t be taken lightly by Canada, they’re a tough team who will be expecting a good backing from the crowd in Nevada. They go into this tournament as the underdog, and perhaps they can thrive as such?
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