The Canadian men’s team will mark a new era in its history this weekend.
The Reds will be in Bradenton, Fla., to take on the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sunday in their opening game of qualifiers for the 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League.
Here’s what you need to know about this international competition.
What is the Concacaf Nations League?
The Concacaf Nations League is a new tournament for national teams based in North and Central America, and the Caribbean.
How does it work?
Forty teams from Concacaf will compete in the Nations League, which is, essentially, a three-league competition.
The six nations that made it to the final round of the Concacaf qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup – the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama – receive automatic entry into the competition, and will play in League A.
The other 34 nations will play in a qualifying round (four games each) to determine which of the three leagues they will compete in. The top six teams from the single-table qualifiers will be put in League A, the next 16 teams will play in League B, and the last 12 teams will play in League C. Each league will play games in September, October and November of 2019, and will be contested under a home-and-away, round-robin format.
Each of the three leagues will be divided into four groups of three teams, and will feature promotion and relegation. The four group winners will qualify for the Nations League championship to be played in March, 2020. The four last-place teams in League A will be relegated to League B.
League B will also contain four groups of four teams. The group winners will be promoted to League A, and the bottom four teams will be relegated to League C.
League C will feature four groups, with each group winner earning promotion.
Who will Canada play?
The Reds are in a qualifying group with the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts & Nevis, and French Guiana. Canada plays its opening match against the U.S. Virgin Islands – this is a road game even though it was moved to Florida, due to a lack of proper facilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Canada hosts Dominica in its first home game on Oct. 16 at BMO Field.
Why is the Nations League important?
The Nations League will be used as the qualifying process for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and it will also determine seeding for 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying. The top 10 nations from the Nations League qualifiers will earn a berth at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which will expand to 16 teams.
The Nations League will also hope to strengthen the Concacaf region by ensuring teams have a chance to play regular competitive games, instead of meaningless friendlies – a lot of smaller Caribbean nations only play one or two matches a year.
“CONCACAF Nations League Qualifying represents a watershed moment for CONCACAF and its 41-member family,” CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said when the tournament was first announced.
“When the ball rolls in September [of 2018], it will mark a new era of international football for our member associations, conceived in line with our one CONCACAF vision, during which all our countries have the chance to weigh themselves against the confederation’s best, while widely developing national team football on and off the field.”
Why is the Nations League important to Canada?
Aside from the reasons stated above, the Nations League gives Canada a better chance to prepare for the 2019 Gold Cup and 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying by guaranteeing it will be playing a number of competitive games over the next few years.
During some recent international windows, Canada has played just one game (and sometimes none at all). The hope is that by playing regular games in the Nations League, Canada will improve and be able to test itself ahead of next year’s Gold Cup and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.