By Ryan Bailey
New international tournament format provides silverware opportunities for the United States and Mexico national teams
CHARLOTTE—American soccer fans will be spoiled for choice this summer, when MLS regular season play is augmented by elite-level international competition in Euro 2020 (starting June 11) and the latest iteration of the Copa America (which, at the time of writing, is scheduled to kick off June 13).
However, there are also two international tournaments being staged in North America—and the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) and Mexico will be involved in both.
Fans may already be familiar with the Gold Cup, the biannual tournament for international teams in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). Bank of America Stadium hosted Gold Cup matches in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 editions. The 2021 tournament begins on July 10.
Before the Gold Cup takes place, the U.S. will host the first-ever staging of the CONCACAF Nations League Finals, which represents the culmination of the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League.
Here’s everything you need to know about the tournament…
What is the CONCACAF Nations League?
Following the success of the inaugural UEFA Nations League in Europe, CONCACAF announced its own version for its 41 member nations. The competition aims to replace international friendly matches with meaningful, competitive ones. So, where the USMNT may have previously played a team like Brazil in a friendly without much consequence, they will instead be competing for another trophy against regional rivals.
The first UEFA Nations League was staged in 2019-20, where the 41 CONCACAF members were split into three leagues. Those leagues were then divided into four Groups of three. The USMNT topped League A, Group A with wins over Canada and Cuba, while Mexico won all four of their matches in League A, Group B to finish top of their group.
Due to this group stage performance, The USMNT and Mexico both progressed to the CONCACAF Nations League Finals, which are taking place this June. (The Finals were originally slated for last summer, but were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
What is the format of the Finals?
Four teams have progressed to the finals: the USMNT, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica. There will be two single-elimination semifinals, a third-place playoff and a final to determine the inaugural champion.
The semifinals both take place on Thursday, June 3, at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado. Per seeding based on 2019-20 Nations League performance, the U.S. will face Honduras, before Mexico take on Costa Rica.
The stage, therefore, is potentially set for the U.S. and fabled rivals Mexico to meet in the Final, which will take place in Denver on Sunday, June 6. The third-place playoff will be held earlier on the same day.
What prize does the winner earn?
The winning team will claim the brand-new CONCACAF Nations League trophy, which is described as “a celebration of football, unity, quality, access and national pride.”
Will MLS players be involved?
MLSSoccer.com notes that 15 MLS players have been selected for participation in the Finals. The Colorado Rapids’ Kellyn Acosta, LA Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget, Real Salt Lake’s David Ochoa and San Jose’s Jackson Yueill are in the USMNT squad.
Former MLS players including Zack Steffen, Reggie Cannon, Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams are also on Gregg Berhalter’s 23-man roster.
The Galaxy’s Jonathan dos Santos, meanwhile, will likely start for Mexico.
How can I watch the tournament?
All four matches will be shown on the Paramount+ platform, with the Final and the USMNT’s semifinal also featuring on CBS Sports Network. Spanish-language coverage can be found on TUDN.