2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship: Group A Preview

The United States Women’s National Team will, almost certainly, win their group.

What is far from certain is which of the other teams will finish as the runner-up in Group A of this year’s CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, thus earning a chance to play for a spot at this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo via an all-or-nothing semifinal against the top team from Group B.

Unfortunately, for all of these teams and whoever ends up being the USA’s opponent from Group B in the semifinal, the USWNT is at almost full strength compared to its 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup squad, missing only Alex Morgan due to pregnancy.


MATCH SCHEDULE

All times are Eastern (Standard) Time.
(See this post for the full TV schedule and additional details.)

Tuesday, January 28th (Group A)
Costa Rica vs Panama – 5:50 p.m. (6:00 p.m. kick-off) – FS2
USWNT vs Haiti – 8:30 p.m. (8:40 p.m. kick-off) – FS2

Friday, January 31st (Group A)
Haiti vs. Costa Rica – 5:50 p.m. (6:00 p.m. kick-off) – FOX Soccer Plus
Panama vs. USWNT – 8:30 p.m. (8:40 p.m. kick-off) – FOX Soccer Plus

Monday, February 3rd (Group A)
Panama vs. Haiti – 5:50 p.m. (6:00 p.m. kick-off) – FS2
USWNT vs. Costa Rica – 8:30 p.m. (8:40 p.m. kick-off) – FS1


MATCH PREVIEWS

Match Day A1

For its opening match, the USWNT faces its most interesting opponent of the group stage, in a young Haiti side that features 12 players from their 2018 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup squad, including winger Nérilia “NériGol” Mondésir, who plays for French D1 team Montpellier HSC, along side French WNT players Valérie Gauvin, Sakina Karchaoui, and Marion Torrent.

While the USA should relatively easily win this match, Haiti may cause some frustrations, as they have the potential to be stingy in their defense.  On the other hand, the USWNT could easily rack-up a number of goals, if they can exploit the flanks as they did the last time the two sides played in 2015.

In the earlier match, Costa Rica will be looking not only for a win, but goals, so that it can gain an advantage in goal differential against its most likely challenger for the runner-up spot, Haiti.  That might be a challenge for Costa Rica, as while Panama are missing five of their top six goal-scorers from the past two years, the core of Panama’s defense is intact, including teenage goalkeeper Yenith Bailey, who won the Golden Glove at the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship.  However, Panama’s defense was not a problem for Costa Rica at the Pan-American Games last summer, when Costa Rica earned a 3:1 comeback victory over the Panamanians (match report, PDF).

Match Day A2

On Friday, the USWNT will take on what should be its least challenging opponent of the group, Panama, who they most recently played in 2018 during the group stage of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship.  That match ended just 5-nil in favor of the USA, thanks to solid goalkeeping from Yenith Bailey and too many ineffective shots by the USWNT.  With Panama missing key offensive players such as Natalia Mills and Karla Riley, their ability to create useful possession could be even more limited than in 2018, thus giving the USA even more time and opportunities to run up the score.

Although the match between Haiti and Costa Rica will not ultimately decide who is the runner-up in Group A, its result should be the most significant.  The team that wins this match should be in control of its destiny going into the final day for the group.  However, if the result is a draw, then that makes the next match day all the more intriguing.

Costa Rica, led by veteran midfielder Shirley Cruz, has the experience and quality to defeat Haiti, but Les Grenadières have a number of youthful and speedy attacking threats, including possible starting center forward Mikerline Saint-Félix, who scored against Canada in their recent closed-door match.

Match Day A3

In the last match of the group, the USWNT will play its most familiar of the three, having played Costa Rica 15 times over their history, including the USA’s most recent friendly in November 2019, a 6-nil victory for the USWNT.

If Costa Rica is sitting on a full 6 points after their first two matches, then the match could be relatively meaningless, especially if Valverde chooses to rest the bulk of her team.  However, if Costa Rica is sitting on 4 points after defeating Panama and drawing Haiti, then Costa Rica will be focused on preserving and/or gaining a goal difference advantage over Haiti, depending on the day’s earlier result.

Yes, thanks to CONCACAF customs, Costa Rica will know exactly its scenario(s) for advancement (if any), as the earlier match between Haiti and Panama will have already concluded before the USA and Costa Rica even kick-off.

In that earlier match, If Haiti is at least on 1 point, they will be focused on defeating Panama, and by as many goals as possible, in order to have the goal difference advantage over Costa Rica. If Haiti has been mathematically eliminated after two matches (due to two losses), their focus may also be on defeating Panama, but only as a consolation victory.


USWNT QUESTIONS

With new head coach Vlatko Andonovski at the helm, now for almost three months, some tweaks to the the USWNT’s system and formation have been hinted.

Who starts up front as the central forward?  Carly Lloyd, Christen Press, or Lynn Williams?

Might Crystal Dunn be used as a winger up top against lesser CONCACAF opponents?

What is the second formation that has been practiced?


PREDICTIONS

Expected Finish:  USWNT, Costa Rica or Haiti (toss-up), Panama

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