CONCACAF’s League of Nations

USA

On the heels of UEFA trying to destroy the meaningless friendly, CONCACAF this weekend moved towards consideration of a similarly inane proposal. With European nations in the near future using their international windows to compete in a European tournament, the North American/Central American/Caribbean confederation leaked that a similar proposal was in the works. Dubbed the “League of Nations”, this proposal would have the confederation’s nations competing against each other in a tournament during the international breaks.

The winners of this proposal should be obvious. Smaller federations like Caribbean island nations would have subsidized guaranteed matches, some against the best teams in the region. Without a competition, it’d be near impossible for St. Kitts for example to play a match against the U.S. In the current set-up, the Americans would get no advantage from such a match except for maybe a nice trip to the beach afterward. However, CONCACAF’s voting is dominated by these smaller federations and although the larger federations have more power, the sheer numbers of Caribbean votes is an imposing block.

In reality the losers of such a proposal are the largest federations, specifically the U.S. and Mexico. The spin if the proposal is approved will be that with UEFA moving to such a tournament, CONCACAF needs to create something similar to ensure that its federations have meaningful matches to play during the international window.
This is short-sighted for a number of reasons.

Even if the proposed CONMEBOL/CONCACAF merger went through, limiting the U.S. and Mexico to almost entirely playing regional teams hurts their chances in the World Cup. The only real opportunity to play competitively in between World Cups for the senior team would be the Confederations Cup, meaning the U.S. or Mexico (or both) would be denied an opportunity to play meaningful minutes against “other” competition in the lead up to the most important tournament of all. It’s not just the loss of playing against European teams, however, but it would be the lack of playing against the other confederations as well. A diversity of opponents in the international window, including teams like New Zealand or Egypt, expose CONCACAF teams to other styles of play and players they may see in the World Cup.

The U.S. would be the major losers in two areas in particular. The first is income from international matches. You can call the tournament The League of Nations and try to dress it up as a big deal, but at the end of the day a match against Germany sells more tickets and sponsorships than a Match against Haiti. The U.S. Soccer Federation recently has struggled to sell tickets to all men’s matches and depriving the senior team of premium opponents like France or Argentina to instead play CONCACAF opponents exacerbates this issue.

The second area is player recruitment, and while this may impact a handful of players that handful may be critical to the U.S. in the coming years. A dual-national player deciding between a smaller European nation (say Iceland) and the U.S. knows now that he could feature for the U.S. against some name opponents leading up to World Cup qualification. If he sees the U.S. only playing CONCACAF nations, will he lean towards the opportunity to at least see the field against Italy and England more than once maybe every four years?

The League of Nations is a solution in search of a problem, and CONCACAF may inadvertently be hurting its best two confederations by considering the idea.