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The CONCACAF Nations League explained

North America, Central America, and the Caribbean are competing in the Nations League. We explain how the CONCACAF international soccer competition works

United States v Cuba - CONCACAF Nations League
Jackson Yueill of the United States passes off the ball past Maykel Reyes of Cuba during a game between Cuba and USMNT at Truman Bodden Sports Complex on November 19, 2019 in Georgetown, Grand Cayman.
Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Update, June 3 — USMNT defeats Honduras 1-0 on Jordan Siebatcheu’s goal in the 89th minute to advance to the first CONCACAF Nations League final. USA will play the winner of Mexico-Costa Rica in the final Sunday. Honduras will await the loser of that match for the third-place game.

The CONCACAF Nations League reaches its final stage this week as the United States, Honduras, Mexico, and Costa Rica battle for the top spot in the inaugural competition. On Thursday, the semifinals will feature USA vs. Honduras and Mexico vs. Costa Rica. On Sunday, the two winners will face off in the finals and the two losers will face off in the third place game.

Here’s how the tournament works.

History

The CONCACAF Nations League was founded in 2018 and is the international soccer competition put on by the soccer federations of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The matches take place during what is known as the “international break” from the world’s club competitions. These stretches of dates are allocated for international friendlies and competitions by the FIFA match calendar. The CONCACAF Nations League consists of 41 teams.

This year’s tournament was originally schedule to conclude a year ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a postponement to this year.

Format

The teams are divided into three divisions (A, B, C) based on performance in the initial qualifying round played in 2018. The six teams which participated in the last round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, USA, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago) automatically received status in the A division. The remaining teams, except Guatemala (suspended by FIFA), played in the Nations League qualifying tournament to get placed in a division.

The divisions follow a promotion-relegation system based on performance in the Nations League. The top four teams from the A division compete in a knockout round to determine the champion. That’s what USA, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica will start Thursday. The top teams from the B and C divisions will be promoted to the A division while the bottom two teams from A division will go to the B division and the bottom two teams from the B division move down to the C division.

Implications

The CONCACAF Nations League will also determine qualification for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is considered the premier international soccer competition for the soccer federations in CONCACAF. The top eight teams from the A division and top four teams from the B division of the Nations League will qualify for the next Gold Cup.

The ultimate goal of the CONCACAF Nations League is to provide more opportunities for smaller federations to develop soccer in their respective countries. With 41 countries vying for international matches, the Nations League provides a platform for smaller federations to get enough matches in to help build a foundation for the sport in each country.

Favorites

Mexico is the favorite to advance and win the final game, installed at +100 by DraftKings Sportsbook. Team USA follows at +110, Costa Rica is +400, and Honduras is +1100.

For Thursday’s slate, the US is a -235 favorite against Honduras, who is +900. Mexico is a -200 favorite against Costa Rica, who is a +625 underdog.