Stakeholders give Concacaf format changes thumbs up
Jamaica's Adrian Mariappa (left) tries to get by Joshewa Frederick of the Cayman Islands during their Concacaf Nations League game inside the National Stadium on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Jamaica won 4-0. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

Regional football functionaries and close watchers of the game have raised a chorus in support of Concacaf's sweeping changes to its senior men's competition platform, details of which were announced recently.

The format changes, it appears, will have direct impact on the senior men's suite of competitions — the Nations League, Gold Cup, and qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2026.

In the major shake-up of formats, the move is widely viewed as being progressive and a catalyst for unprecedented development and competition opportunities for the 41-member subcontinental body.

Beginning with the 2023/2024 edition, the Concacaf Nations League (CNL) has been revamped to include more direct elimination matches that will qualify teams to continental summer competitions.

This will provide the qualification route for Concacaf's six competing teams in the 2024 CONMEBOL Copa America. The 2024/25 CNL will qualify teams to the 2025 Gold Cup. thing is for sure is that Concacaf is facilitating constant development for its member nations

The competition will continue to be played in a three-league format (A, B, and C), where the region's 41 men's senior national teams will be distributed into the leagues according to results of the preceding CNL edition. The 2024/25 CNL edition will serve as the qualifying competition for the 2025 Concacaf Gold Cup, but details regarding the qualification process are yet to be announced.

With regards to the World Cup allotment for Concacaf with an expanded tournament of 48 teams, the FIFA Council in February confirmed that the three hosts — Canada, Mexico, and the United States — will automatically qualify, and further announced that Concacaf will have an additional three direct qualification berths and two FIFA intercontinental play-off berth possibilities. With that, Concacaf could have up to eight participating federations at the next edition of the FIFA World Cup.

Reacting to the announcements, which are expected to bring broad-based benefits to all Connacaf members — big and small — Grenada's Spice Boys Coach Anthony Modeste greeted the new developments with a beaming ray of optimism.

"I believe these formats will be good as we, the smaller nations of Concacaf, will benefit because we will be given the opportunities with new spots, the opportunity to play the bigger teams in Concacaf, and as smaller nations that's the level of football you want to play.

BECKFORD...competitively, some teams won't go all the way, but the amount of football being played is giving a considerable amount of access

"It is the highest level and the highest quality of football to get to play the likes of the Mexico, the USA, Jamaica — and the new format allows us this opportunity.

"Going forward, with the COPA America we can also be given a chance because we know football is an eleven vs eleven and anything can happen, and based on the format you are now given a great opportunity to qualify for that tournament. So, all in all, I think it's a plus for the region and for the smaller nations of Concacaf," the former Grenada international told the Jamaica Observer.

Guyana Senior Men's Coach Jamaal Shabazz says the new competition paths have been widened so that smaller countries can finally enter the 'big stage' of regional football.

"The format gives continued hope to the smaller nations to push to get into League A because there is where all the benefits are for us. Off course to get there, there needs to be sound planning and proper organisation by the federations.

MODESTE...I believe these formats will be good as we the smaller nations of Concacaf will benefit

"While there will always be hierarchy in football with giants and minnows, what Concacaf has done with this format is create a definite pathway for any ambitious, small nation who wants to reach the top," he noted.

Shabazz underlined a poignant regional reality — that ambition and talent alone will not guarantee success for football, which needs collective national backing to move to the next level.

"It will not take ambition alone, football talent, or even coaching to get us there. It needs a national effort working towards the same objective — the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker — all playing their part in the plan," he said.

Football coach and respected analyst, Jamaican Andrew Price welcomed Concacaf's new direction with an air of great possibility.

"One thing is for sure is that Concacaf is facilitating constant development for its member nations. With the new formats it continues to allow competitive action for all teams in the region, despite ranking. Teams that were previously unable to get games within the FIFA window are now guaranteed competitive games through the Nation's League.

"The competition rewards progress, and conversely condemns teams to lower divisions if they don't perform well, so the merit system is truly in play," he said.

Price said Concacaf's agreement with CONMEBOL for joint hosting of and participation in South America's marquee tournament, the Copa America, is crucial across a range of fronts.

"The signing of an agreement with CONMEBOL by Concacaf is also very significant as it allows teams in region the opportunity to compete in the highly rated Copa America with top South American teams. Interestingly, the next Copa America will be hosted in North America, which of course hosts the next World Cup in 2026, so it is a sort of dress rehearsal for Concacaf to show its readiness to host the World Cup.

"But most importantly, it gives Concacaf teams the opportunity to play against top-class opposition, which will only assist to improve their long-term development," Price concluded.

Sport manager and communications specialist Carole Beckford sees the new avenues of growth as the confederation "placing tremendous value on its football as a major space in the global context".

"The expansion at several levels is creating tremendous opportunity for a wider cross section of countries. While competitively some teams won't go all the way, the amount of football being played is giving a considerable amount of access. This region [Caribbean] ought to make sure their teams are ready," she cautioned.

Sean Williams

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