Right now there are three big stories dominating CONCACAF talk: the World Cup bid, CPL, and the Nations League. While the first two have gotten a great deal of ink, the third has mainly been relegated to articles explaining why it is “bad for CONCACAF” or will “kill US soccer”. I’ve decided to explain why the league isn’t bad but I fact a great thing for the region and Canada.
Firstly let’s talk about why this is happening: nations struggle to secure games during international windows. As a result of this they not only lack the chance to improve on the field but they also lack the ability to attract sponsor dollars that could go to improving their FAs. Bermuda (who have played 11 games since 2012) have one main sponsor. The lack of games does interfere with the ability to attract new ones.
So why don’t they arrange friendlies? Partly because of the tourism industry. In order to host a friendly, you need to provide accommodation and many nations can’t because all the hotels are booked during international windows. Finding accommodation becomes a matter of chance. A number of CONCACAF nations face this issue.
Another is the lack of facilities. Anguilla FA president Raymond Guishard informed me that the nation has one field shared by both the men’s and women’s leagues along with the youth and school leagues. In order to arrange a friendly everything needs to stop and the field needs to be tended to prior to an international match. This situation is shared by a number of nations in CONCACAF.
Canceling every soccer event in your nation when you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to host doesn’t make sense.
The creation of a Nations League would provide nations like Anguilla a window well in advance to prepare for games. The risk of a lack of field readiness and hotel rooms is almost completely removed.
Guishard is excited by the prospect of the Nations League and believes it will help nations like Anguilla improve.
“It could really help us get better,” said Guishard.
The second big issue is that nations (eg. The United States) will be playing in groups that are too weak to help them improve. This point is easily debunked. The Nations League will be tiered with pro/rel. Guishard explained that teams will be broken into groups based on strength and the best teams will move up from their group. A nation like the US will not be playing Anguilla or Turks and Caicos, as many American writers fear, but instead Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago. There is no reason for the larger FAs to fear.
Canada falls into an interesting place. It’s not quite a regional power but it’s not a minor nation either. It’s likely Canada will play the role of a yo-yo nation (if the league is set up like UEFA’s), hovering between the top and second tier. While some might not see playing the second-tier nations aiding Canada’s improvement, it’s important that we remember Canada’s track record against these nations isn’t that great. Canada was unable to beat either El Salvador and Belize on their turf and had to settle for a tie with the former in the 2015 Gold Cup, where Canada lost to likely fellow yo-yo nation Jamaica. The Nations League will offer Canada a chance to improve on its weaker elements against the appropriate competition.
Canada also goes through long periods without meaningful soccer. The creation of the Nations League will possibly end that as it has been suggested the league would be used to decide who is in the Gold Cup and even when a nation enters World Cup qualifying. This would mean players could be capped locked and Canada could benefit from a massive boost.
It will also offer more games played in Canada, thus growing the team’s popularity and generating revenue.
It builds the sport across the continent, adds matches to the calendar (Bermuda could go from 11 matches in five years to 36 in four), generates money (both from ticket sales and sponsorships), eases the technical issues many nations face and gets everyone playing all the time. There really is no reason to not want this tournament.
The Nations League will be starting up in 2018 according to Guishard and we should all be excited for this new chapter in CONCACAF history.