After their win against the United States in front of 90,000 rabid fans in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the Mexican National Team has once again regained its place on the top of CONCACAF, as the inaugural CONCACAF Cup champions.
The Mexican team largely dominated the United States, forcing the Americans to defend with eight or nine behind the ball for most of the game. Nonetheless, the Americans hung tight through 90 minutes, equalized after Mexico took the lead in extra time, and provided national team fans with the best performance they have seen from the United States in quite some time. However, when Paul Aguilar scored for El Tri in the 118th minute, neither side could help but feel that the best team won.
While the Mexicans earned their victory over the U.S. and spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup, their victory demonstrated one key fact about soccer in North America: CONCACAF is wide open. Despite the fact that Mexico’s possession showed the gap in technical quality that still exists between El Tri and the USMNT, it still took two extra time goals for the Mexicans to dispatch their northern neighbors.
Clearly, the gap between the top two teams in CONCACAF remains extremely narrow.
However, restricting a conversation about CONCACAF to just the United States and Mexico grossly under represents the massive steps the other nations in the region have taken toward improving their national soccer teams. Costa Rica reached the quarterfinal of the 2014 World Cup. Jamaica reached the final of the Gold Cup in 2015. If not for a miracle Graham Zusi goal, we would have seen Panama in the World Cup rather than Mexico. Nearly every nation in CONCACAF has taken huge steps over the past decade, and the improved competition has only made the region’s competitions harder to predict.
While the United States and Mexico still trade places at the top as the de facto “Kings of CONCACAF,” there are many nations looking to challenge for that crown. USMNT fans will find it hard to forget that they finished in fourth place in the 2015 Gold Cup, and while that result can be partially blamed on Jurgen Klinsmann’s questionable decision-making, mostly, it can be attributed to the growth of other CONCACAF nations.
Jamaica has made a huge commitment to recruiting dual internationals from England, increasing the size of their talent pool, which has been an issue for the tiny island nation, and elevated the level of competition on the national team. Additionally, the hiring of Winfried Schafer, the former German midfielder, as national team coach, gives the team a level of tactics they have not seen in their history.
The talent increase hardly stops with Jamaica, as the advent of MLS has created another top league to develop the regional talent that has gone previously undiscovered, toiling away in local leagues. The national teams of Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica, have massively improved over the past few years, with much of their talent coming through the MLS ranks, and eventually moving on to Europe. Obviously, the stock of MLS seems to rise daily, and with it, so too does the stock of these national teams.
As recently as five years ago, CONCACAF was a two-team race between the United States and Mexico, with Mexico triumphing more often than not. Now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The improvement of Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica and Jamaica has made the region that much more competitive, and will ultimately benefit the national teams in international competition.
So, Mexico fans, enjoy your championship for now, because there’s many more nations waiting in the wings to challenge for the top spot.