This story was originally published by Charles Boehm, MLSsoccer.com Contributor on March 7, 2018.
Concacaf announced the details and structure of its new Nations League competition on Wednesday, providing a clearer picture of the tournament the confederation hails as “a new era of national team football” for the region.
The Concacaf Nations League begins in September with a one-off qualifying phase, while the group phase, consisting of three tiered leagues, will kick off next year. The top league will end with a final to crown the Nations League champions, and will also serve to unify the qualifying path for the newly-expanded Gold Cup.
The inaugural Nations League will be played in the official FIFA match windows in September, October and November of 2019, with a championship final to be played in March 2020. All eligible Concacaf member associations will be assigned by sporting performance into three leagues: A, B and C.
Each league will be subdivided into groups, in which the participating nations will compete in a home-and-away, round-robin format over the course of the group phase. Nations League scheduling will be centralized in what Concacaf calls a “fan-friendly, evenly-distributed ‘week of football’ format,” with staggered kickoff times on each day of the match window to allow for viewing of multiple games across the region.
“The launch of the Concacaf Nations League, conceived over the last two years and guided by the ‘ONE CONCACAF’ principles of unity and access for our region’s football, is the defining moment marking the completion of our transition into a new era for our 41-member Concacaf family,” said confederation president Victor Montagliani in a press release.
“The Nations League assures that all our members will have the opportunity to play more and compete more, which in turn will propel greater development of the sport at every level.”
League A will contain four groups of three teams; the winners of each group will qualify to the “Final Championship,” which will determine the Nations League champion. The teams at the bottom of each League A group will be relegated to League B for the next edition of the tournament.
League B will contain four groups of four teams. The winner of each League B group will be promoted to League A, and the bottom team of each League B group will be relegated to League C for the next edition. League C will consist of the remaining member associations divided into four groups. The winner of each League C group will be promoted to League B.
The first edition of the Nations League will begin with a qualifying phase to determine placement in each league. By virtue of having qualified for the Hexagonal Round of the 2018 World Cup qualifying process, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, the United States and Trinidad & Tobago have earned the right to be seeded directly into League A, and therefore will not participate in Nations League qualifying. In view of the ongoing suspension imposed by FIFA, Guatemala will be barred from participating in Concacaf Nations League qualifying.
The draw for Nations League qualifying, held Wednesday in Miami, sorted Concacaf’s 34 other participating member associations into 68 total fixtures, to be played on FIFA match dates from September 2018 through March 2019.
The results of those qualifying games will be compiled into an aggregate table, ranking the participating teams 1-34 based on points earned, goal difference and a series of additional tiebreakers. The table will be used to divide teams into Leagues A, B and C for the first full edition of the Nations League.
The top six teams from the aggregate table will join the aforementioned six Hexagonal participants in League A, the next 16 teams will qualify for League B, and the remaining teams will be assigned to League C.
The top 10 finishers in the Nations League qualifying final table will also join the six Hexagonal participants in the 2019 Gold Cup, which was recently expanded from 12 to 16 teams.