CONCACAF: Semifinal Drama

What an interesting group stage.

Group A saw the United States dominate their matches as expected. Panama took advantage of their opportunities and placed second. But Mexico wasn’t ready for the challenge of group play and ended up falling short of their goal to make the semifinals. It’s a shame, as they have built some decent momentum domestically in Liga MX Feminil. They’ll miss the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Also staying home next summer will be Costa Rica. They weren’t expected to be better than Canada, but they were also bested by Jamaica and will have to rebuild. So, the final four teams for the 2018 CONCACAF Championship are set. USA, Canada, Panama and Jamaica.

Canada vs Panama

Sunday at 5PM Eastern on FS1

Panama started out their Group A play with a convincing 3-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago. That was expected, as was their subsequent 5-0 defeat to the United States. But they recovered and topped Mexico 2-0 in their last match to earn the second slot in the Group A rankings and the attendant trip to the semis. Now, they’ll need to win just one match in their next two to secure a spot in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. If they lose both, they’ll have to endure a playoff, but there will still be hope.

The good news for Panama is that they haven’t conceded any goals to any team in this tournament other than the United States. The bad news is that Canada put up 17 goals on their way to winning Group B, while only conceding once.

None of their Group B opponents gave Canada much difficulty, and it was only in their last, somewhat physical match with Costa Rica that they weren’t completely dominant throughout. They won that match 3-1, and weren’t troubled in any meaningful way during the entire group. Despite their dominance, they didn’t really face any serious test, and they didn’t look quite as good as the United States as they topped their own Group. With a semifinal win on Sunday, they’ll advance to the final, and secure an automatic bid for France.

Panama won’t collapse against Canada, but they’re certainly the less experienced team and lack the depth of the 2015 Women’s World Cup hosts. I expect them to come out fighting (and fouling) in an effort to put Canada off of their game. It may work. Canada has been somewhat lucky at the back, and can get caught out of shape on the counter. Stephanie Labbé has been very good, but she can’t play center back and goal at the same time. And I don’t think it’s crazy to point out the Quinn and Zadorsky pairing wasn’t grooving in front of her. I’d expect Buchanan on Sunday evening, though for me Quinn hasn’t looked as good as Zadorsky. Still, Canada wins handily, and Panama will look to Wednesday’s 3rd place match for another shot to make their World Cup dream come true.

Canada 5-1 Panama

USA vs Jamaica

Sunday at 8PM Eastern on FS1

After dropping an encouraging 2-0 opening match to Canada, the Jamaicans picked themselves up and downed Costa Rica and Cuba by a combined 10-0 score. Yes, nine of those goals came against hapless Cuba, but it was enough to place second in Group B and advance to the semifinal matchup with the winner of Group A.

Unfortunately for Jamaica, that winner would be the reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions, the USA. The same USA who stomped Mexico 6-0, Panama 5-0 and Trinidad & Tobago 7-0.

Sunday night promises much of the same. Jamaica has a chance to get to France, but it simply isn’t going to manifest itself in a historic victory over the USA. Though I’ll give them a goal on a PK caused by a funky blind handling in the box by Ertz.

Throughout their group play, the United States practiced attacking in different ways. They’ve found runners over the top, they’ve worked quick passes in tight quarters, they’ve spread the ball wide and sprayed crosses into dangerous areas, and they’ve played to earn set pieces (which they continue to execute well). Everything worked. But it’s hard to say they were tested.  

Still, even the best teams in the world haven’t been much of a test lately. Jamaica won’t have the secret sauce to shut down the American attack, and it will take something very special to grab a goal in the run of play. Can’t see it. The Champs are going to France.

USA 7-1 Jamaica