In the past, Concacaf hand-picked its Gold Cup groups based on commercial and competitive considerations. This year, however, in advance of the 16th regional championship, a proper draw was conducted for the first time. And for the USA, it delivered a tantalizing rematch with Alphonso Davies and Canada.
Canada was responsible for the low point of USA coach Gregg Berhalter’s tenure, an emphatic 2-0 Nations League triumph in Toronto last October. Although Berhalter and Co. exacted a bit of revenge the following month in Orlando, Canada is an up-and-coming team that should represent a stiffer-than-usual group-stage test. It is the only nation other than the USA or Mexico to win a Gold Cup. The Americans also will face Martinique, and a qualifier to be determined, in the group stage of next summer’s regional championship.
Typically, Mexico and the USA have been kept apart purposely until the Gold Cup final. Now they could face each other in the semis as well, depending on how the group stage concludes. Mexico was drawn with El Salvador, surprise 2019 quarterfinalist Curaçao (now coached by Guus Hiddink) and a qualifier.
The 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup will take place July 10 through August 1 at venues yet to be announced. Mexico is the reigning champion, and the USA will be going for its seventh crown. Costa Rica and Honduras are the other seeded countries in the 16-team group stage.
Next summer’s tournament includes two new wrinkles. Qatar, the Asian champion and 2022 World Cup host, was invited by Concacaf as a guest (it’s also playing in next year’s Copa América). In addition, a 12-team preliminary knockout stage running July 2-6 will determine the final three group-stage participants.
Here are the qualifying-round matchups, full groups and knockout pairings:
*The Trinidad & Tobago Football Association was suspended last week by FIFA. If the suspension isn’t lifted by the evening of Dec. 18, T&T will be replaced in the preliminary round by the national team from Antigua and Barbuda, which was the next highest-ranked side in last year’s Nations League.
A1 vs. D2
C1 vs. B2
D1 vs. A2
B1 vs. C2
A1/D2 vs. C1/B2
D1/A2 vs. B1/C2
A1/D2/C1/B2 vs. D1/A2/B1/C2
If it seems like Concacaf staged this draw a bit earlier than necessary—the Gold Cup doesn’t kick off for more than nine months—it should be forgiven. All involved, administrators and coaches, are probably desperate for something to do. International soccer was forced to yield as the club game slowly returned, and multiple events—including the Nations League final four and the start of World Cup qualifying—were postponed. Last week, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced that the USA wouldn’t play next month either. Its most recent game was Feb. 1. And Mexico hasn’t taken the field since November 2019.
Under the best-case scenario, the USA hopes to play two friendlies in Europe in November (one at Wales and one against a team to be determined), finishing out a year of unprecedented adversity with just three games total.
Compared to that, if the coronavirus cooperates, 2021 will feel impossibly busy. There’s a friendly window in March, followed by a gauntlet comprising the rescheduled Nations League finals (early June), the Gold Cup and then, most likely, the start of World Cup qualifying in early September. Qualifying windows will follow in October and November. In all, the USA could wind up playing Concacaf rivals in up to 14 official games across three competitions next year.
Here’s a closer look at the USA’s group-stage opponents:
FIFA rank: 73
Gold Cup history: The USA and Canada have met four times at the Gold Cup, with the Americans holding a 3-0-1 advantage. The 2002 and 2007 games came in the semifinals, the first being decided in the USA’s favor on penalties, the second clouded by controversy over an offside call on Atiba Hutchinson that robbed Canada of a stoppage-time equalizer.
Last meeting: USA 4, Canada 1 in the Concacaf Nations League, November 2019
FIFA rank: NR (Not a FIFA member)
Gold Cup history: The USA and Martinique have played twice in the Gold Cup’s group stage, in 2003 and 2017. The USA won both games.
Last meeting: USA 3, Martinique 2 in the Gold Cup, July 2017
Haiti/St. Vincent and the Grenadines/Bermuda/Barbados
FIFA rank: 86/167/168/162