Five things to know about the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup – Equalizer Soccer

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Colombia midfielder Daniela Montoya (6) and United States midfielder Emily Sonnett (14)

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup kicks off on Saturday with three play-in games (sort of) and regional bragging rights on the line (One-third of the final-round participants are from South America, so there’s an asterisk to Concacaf bragging rights .)

Default thinking leads to the idea that the United States women’s national team is the favorite in this tournament. The United States women’s national team has owned Concacaf tournaments, winning 14 of the 15 Concacaf competitions in which it has participated (the US did not participate in World Cup qualifying in 1998 as hosts of the 1999 World Cup).

This US team, however, is in the early stages of a complete makeover, a process currently being overseen by an interim coach who is working remotely with the impending coach to get the team ready for the Olympics. Winning the Gold Cup is plenty realistic, as is the idea of ​​still calling the US the favorite on home soil, but this tournament shouldn’t be a walkabout for the Americans. A unique knockout-round setup could bring a difficult quarterfinal matchup, depending on how things play out in each group.

Here are five things to know about the Concacaf W Gold Cup, which the confederation is calling the “first” women’s Gold Cup but there were Gold Cups played in 2000 and 2002.

The United States of Rebuilding

What kind of US team will we see at this tournament? Every performance must be weighed through a lens of significant context, chief among it the lack of Emma Hayes on the sideline full-time, and interim coach Twila Kilgore’s longer-term implementation of plans she and Hayes have developed. There is still a relative inexperience to this roster, and depending on the lineups that Kilgore rolls out, a lot of player combinations working together for the first time.

Exactly what those player combinations will be the most intriguing thing to watch. Will the midfield combination be the generally expected trio of Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett? If so, will that see Sonnett play as the lone defensive midfielder, or will there be a more flexible or creative approach? How much time will Sam Coffey, Korbin Albert, or Olivia Moultrie get, and how might their potential inclusions reshape the midfield’s approach?

Up top, the US will further explore life without Alex Morgan. Does Sophia Smith or Mia Fishel lead the line as the No. 9? And how does Jaedyn Shaw — who said recently she prefers the No. 10 role (speaking about San Diego Wave FC) but is dynamic enough to impact the game in any of the front four positions — factor into all this?

All of that assumes that the US will generally stick with a 4-3-3 system, which is not a given. Hayes hasn’t fully taken over, but she is known for tactical experimentation. Her Chelsea sides have dabbled with three-back systems in the recent past. We saw glimpses of more aggressive shapes in possession in the United States’ two games against China in December. The Americans would frequently build out with three in the back and as many as five players across the front line. The Gold Cup is a great place to build upon those ideas.

Play-in round with some surprises

Just like at World Cup qualifying, Haiti is a dark horse to watch in this tournament. The catch? Haiti has not even qualified for the final round of the tournament. Haiti, which made its Women’s World Cup debut in 2023, will play Puerto Rico in one of three play-in games on Saturday. Haiti will be favored on Saturday, but Puerto Rico has made respectable strides in recent years. The winner of that game will advance into Group B with Brazil, Colombia and Panama in what could be the most balanced group in the competition.

Guyana and the Dominican Republic will face off in another play-in game, with the winner advancing to Group A and facing the US on Tuesday. El Salvador and Guatemala play in Saturday’s other play-in game, with the winner advancing to Group C, highlighted by Canada.

Astute observers will note a glaring absence in the entire field: Jamaica. The Reggae Girlz were the last Concacaf team standing at the 2023 World Cup, advancing to the Round of 16 and getting out of a group with Brazil, France and Panama unbeaten and with zero goals conceded. Jamaica, however, then failed to even qualify for the preliminary round of the Gold Cup — but there is a necessary context. Ongoing pay disputes with the federation led Jamaica’s World Cup players to boycott important qualifying gamesleading a depleted Jamaica side to fall short of qualification.

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Hello, guest teams

The champions of Concacaf could well end up hailing from CONMEBOL. Brazil and Colombia are legitimate contenders. Of the 15 teams set to compete at the Gold Cup (including the preliminary rounds), Colombia is the team that has bragging rights to the best finish at the 2023 World Cup after defeating Jamaica to advance to the quarterfinals (where Las Cafeteras gave England trouble). Colombia, however, will be without some stars, including forward Mayra Ramirez — reportedly due to a loophole in FIFA’s release clause. Brazil had a poor World Cup, but — evergreen statement here — the individual talent is there to be a global force. As ever, execution at a team level will dictate wider success.

Argentina and Paraguay also join the field, having qualified via CONMEBOL’s 2022 Copa America Femenina. Argentina, ranked No. 31 in the world, is in Group A alongside the United States, Mexico, and the winner of the Guyana/Dominican Republic play-in game.

Knockout-round mystery adds intrigue

Normally, at this point, we’d all map out our predictions for the winner of this tournament based on assumed paths to the final for the group winners. To Concacaf’s credit, they’ve made a tournament of questionable importance interesting by creating a reseeding mechanism for the knockout stage — particularly important since two of the three best third-place finishers will advance to the quarterfinals.

The final eight teams will be seeded first through eighth based on group-stage performance. The teams will be ranked by the following tiebreakers, in order: greatest number of points obtained in all matches; goal difference most goals scored; lowest number of disciplinary points (1 point for first yellow card, 3 points for second yellow card/indirect red card, 4 points for direct red card, 5 points for yellow card and direct red card); drawing of lots.

Once there’s a ranked order, the matchups will be No. 1 vs. No. 8; No. 2 vs. No. 7; No. 3 vs. No. 6; and no. 4 vs. No. 5. The winner of the No. 1 vs. 8 matchup will face the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchups; the winners of the other two matches will compete in the other semifinal. (Which is to say, there won’t be another reseeding for the semifinals.)

Why does this matter? Concacaf tournaments are infamous for being predictable, with the early stages feeling like a simulation to get to a United States-Canada final. The 2022 Concacaf W Championship provided some intrigue as the US showed some signs of uncertainty in the group stage, but it ultimately ended the way the script usually plays out: the US defeated Canada in the final.

Reseeding at the quarterfinal stage means we could get a heavyweight matchup before the semifinals. It would be fascinating to see the US have to face Canada, Brazil or Colombia in a quarterfinal to avoid an embarrassingly early exit on home soil. Haiti, which gave the US defense trouble the last time the teams met, would be an interesting matchup as well. The tiebreaker system and the ranking of the quarterfinalists means the margins are thin, right down to garbage goals conceded or discipline received. A tough quarterfinal might be exactly what the US needs. Winning the tournament, then, would mean a multiple major matchups — a requirement of the Olympics, too.

What to make of Canada post-Sinclair

Much of the talk will be about the US, but it’s an Olympic year and Canada is the reigning champion in that competition. This will be Canada’s first competition since the international retirement of forward and long-time captain Christine Sinclair, who first appeared for the team 23 years ago and has mostly been the face of it since. Sinclair had not necessarily been the focal point in her final years, but her presence and leadership were undeniable. How will this new era begin for Canada?

Head coach Bev Priestman, who just signed a contract extension through the 2027 World Cup, is tasked with figuring that out. There are plenty of mainstays on the roster, but there is also a mix of relatively new players alongside players who have been around but haven’t fully latched onto prominent roles. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, center backs Vanessa Gilles and Kadeisha Buchanan, and midfielder Jessie Fleming solidify the spine of the team, but Priestman will need more than she got from the group at large at the World Cup if Canada is to earn a medal at a fourth. straight Olympics this summer. The Gold Cup is the team’s best opportunity to simulate this summer and the most time it will have together prior to leaving for France.

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