CONCACAF Championship: 4 Teams, 3 Trips to France

The United States and Canada have punched their ticket to France based on their victories in their semifinal matches on Sunday. They’ll face off on FS1 to crown a champion, but there’s little at stake besides bragging rights. The American women will want to preserve their sterling record over the past couple of years, but matches against Canada are never business as usual.

The early match on FS2 features Jamaica and Panama, both of whom suffered fairly bleak defeats to their respective foes over the weekend. Still, they’ve got everything to play for, and only need to win one game to qualify for next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. The loser will still have a shot, with one additional berth available to either a CONCACAF or CONMEBOL team. Argentina will match up with the 4th place finisher for a home and away playoff that will provide the Western hemisphere’s final WWC squad.

Let’s have some WoSo Wednesday fun.

Jamaica vs Panama

Wednesday at 5PM on FS2

If you watched Jamaica play the United States, you probably didn’t get to see very much to write home about. The same could be said for Panama and Canada.

There wasn’t much possession or offense to be had by either losing squad. But Panama looked broadly better in a slightly stronger Group A, and didn’t look quite as bad against Canada—almost keeping an even first half against a vastly superior opponent. In goal, Yenith Bailey has been a revelation for Panama, making some very impressive saves and generally looking composed and confident despite her youth and inexperience in goal. As the announcers are certain to remind everyone, she’s 17 years old and has only been playing in goal for a year.

Jamaica has a more open style. They’ve also got superior speed and will use the wide areas if a direct attack is ineffective. Any break can be dangerous, though they’ve struggled to connect passes in the final third. They haven’t shown any real nerves thus far in this tournament, and that’s exactly the approach that can propel them to France.

I think Panama is better on paper, though they’ll have to be on top of their game to earn a return to the World Cup. Jamaica will push for an upset, and it’s certainly within their power to steal a goal or two. Can Panama score more goals? I think so. Jamaica gets the win!

Panama 1-2 Jamaica

USA vs Canada

Wednesday at 8:15PM Eastern on FS1

Is this match important? Both sides will be going to France, and both sides will downplay a loss. But the women who play will be auditioning for next summers’ rosters, and trying to make a case that they shouldn’t be left home. It will be interesting to see how the coaches deploy their sides, but don’t expect a soft, friendly performance.

Sunday’s back-to-back matches offered a chance to evaluate Canada and the United States side by side. Where the Americans were crisp and extremely fast, Canada was a bit sloppy and certainly slower. Despite having minimal pressure on the ball, the Canadians weren’t able to dictate the game until after halftime. They looked good, but not great. They were a team you’d be proud to have represent you, and be excited to watch, but they didn’t look like the United States (Or England, or Australia, or Germany, or the Euro-winner Netherlands).

Jessie Fleming, just 20, is such a great player already. It’s exciting to think what she’ll be able to do in the future. Watch her movement off the ball. She shifts into space, showing for whomever has the ball, all the while jerking her head left and right to keep track of every other surrounding player. This gives her the ability to redirect one-touch passes that land at her teammate’s feet without first looking and betraying her intent to her opponents. She’s deceptively fast and has shown exceptional vision for making unmarked runs into the box.

But Canada’s successes against lesser opponents can mask some problems that they don’t seem to want to admit that they have. Janine Beckie’s off-the-ball movement, vision and passing has been poor in this tournament, as has her finishing. Though she’s looked better for Canada than for her clubs in the past, her club play has declined in the past two years, and she’ll try for some new success with Manchester City. On the outside, Ashley Lawrence has been sending in some very poor crosses despite not being under much pressure. She’s had several clean looks at open, unmarked strikers and missed them. Those aren’t chances that better teams will continue to provide. Canada is also broadly missing what Melissa Tancredi used to bring to every match: a physical tenacity that could go over the line at times (just ask Carli Lloyd). Allysha Chapman can deliver a hard tackle, but she’s not typically trying to send a message, and she absorbs more abuse than she deals. The one exception might be Kadeisha Buchanan, but she tends toward moments of excess rather than calculated tone setting. Tancredi’s play brought the team together and elevated their collective grit. That’s something Canada will have to find a way to conjure now that their field players not named Matheson and Sinclair are all under 30 years old.

The Americans did anything and everything they wanted on Sunday. Only after they swapped out their midfield did things stop looking completely dominant. They like to gloat about depth, but there is a clear drop-off when certain influential players come off the field. To be fair, these are some of the world’s best footballers.

Megan Rapinoe is exhibit A, B, and C of this dynamic. Her contributions can’t be matched by others, and seeing it in these games serves as a reminder as to why Jill Ellis gave her a roster spot for the ill-fated Olympics tournament. If there is even a chance she can go, it’s worth taking the risk. Of course, she couldn’t go, and there wasn’t anyone to replace her. D, E, and F are Lindsey Horan. She does so much, so well, it’s hard to keep track of it all. But things just don’t flow as well when she’s off the pitch.

Julie Ertz may be another example, though McCall Zerboni can do most of what she does (and a variety of other things) when not nursing a broken elbow. Ertz gets involved in a lot of physical challenges (giving and taking) and often ends up on the turf clutching one or another sore body part. When she is subbed (or if she was lost for any time due to injury), the space in front of the back four needs a more dominant presence than Morgan Brian. She was run around and over by Jamaica on Sunday, and has struggled to return to her 2015 Women’s World Cup form due to multiple injuries over the intervening years. Sam Mewis would be a better choice (from the current 20-woman roster), but Ellis seems intent on giving Brian every chance to demonstrate her value.

Elsewhere, the depth chart should inspire confidence. Though Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh and Kelley O’Hara haven’t done much for their clubs lately, they’ve looked bright for country. They’re getting healthier and looking better with every appearance. Is anyone worried about Horan, Heath or Morgan? Sauerbrunn or Dahlkemper? Anyone else? No. It’s a very good team and they’re playing very well in their 4-3-3. They’ll handle Canada without difficulty, and solidify their status as favorites to win next summer.

USA 5-2 Canada