CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship: Subtraction Through Addition

The CONCACAF.com article started out so promising…

Following confirmation from FIFA that Costa Rica and Panama will co-host the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, in August of 2020, and that Concacaf has been awarded one additional slot…

An “additional slot”?  Awesome.

But, then came the parenthetical…

 (four in total)

Uh, that doesn’t sound good.

And, then, there was the next paragraph, that started:

The Concacaf Council has determined that Costa Rica and Panama, as host countries of the World Cup, will automatically qualify to the World Cup and will no longer participate in the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship.

Wait…  A confederation can “determine” whether the host country/countries will automatically qualify or not?  Well, that is worth a clarification.

Anyway, moving on for the moment…

The two remaining slots in the World Cup will be determined via the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship.

Well, fu…….n.  Yeah, “fun.”  That’s the word.

Oh.  And, then there’s this bit of news that was slipped in as well:

 …the Confederation announced changes to its World Cup Qualifying tournament, to be hosted in the Dominican Republic between Feb 22 – Mar 8, 2020.

Uh, that’s not what was announced back in November

So, instead of three at-large qualification slots from CONCACAF for the 2020 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup, there are just two available slots, meaning that the semifinals will be must-win all-or-nothing affairs.  (Unless CONCACAF or FIFA decides to throw another curveball.)

But, hey, at least there’s another week to prepare for the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship, since the tournament was pushed back a week, so that it now starts on Saturday, February 22nd instead of the 15th.

But, wait, there’s more…

For the group stage… Guyana (top ranked team in qualifying Group A) and Saint Kitts and Nevis (top ranked team in qualifying Group B) will be replacing Costa Rica and Panama for the group stage of the final championship. The four groups will play as follows:

Group C: United States, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba.
Group D: Mexico, Guyana, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico.
Group E: Canada, Jamaica, Guatemala, El Salvador.
Group F: Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Cayman Islands.

So, Mexico gets an easier group (Guyana instead of Costa Rica), and probably the same for Haiti (Saint Kitts and Nevis instead of Panama).

Moving those two teams from the knock-out phase gave new lives to Bermuda and Barbados:

For the Round of 16, Bermuda (third-place finisher in qualifying Group A) and Barbados (third-place finisher in qualifying group B) will occupy the positions vacated by Guyana and Saint Kitts and Nevis. The round of 16 pairing will be played as follows:

Match #25: 1C vs Saint Lucia
Match #26: 1E vs Bermuda
Match #27: 2C vs 3E
Match #28: 2E vs 3C
Match #29: 1D vs Grenada
Match #30: 1F vs Barbados
Match #31: 2D vs 3F
Match #32: 2F vs 3D

If you want to see the updated schedule, read CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship: Costa Rica and Panama Out, Bermuda and Barbados In.

Otherwise, continue reading for some quick final thoughts…


COMMENTARY

Single-elimination knock-out brackets are not inherently designed to determine multiple winners, just the winner.

Determining the top two teams might be possible, but only if both halves of the brackets were sufficiently balanced.  And, that is not possible in the case of an international youth tournament as FIFA and CONCACAF are currently structured.  Perhaps, if there was a junior “nations league” for U-20 WNTs in CONCACAF, where the top group of teams play a significant number of competitive matches among themselves, then those matches could be used as the basis for seeding.  (Though, if they are already playing a league’s worth of matches, then who finishes at the top of the ‘league’ to determine which teams qualify for the youth WWC.)

As things stand, there is a strong possibility that the second-best team in CONCACAF, whoever that may be, could meet the best team in the semifinal.  And, one of those teams will not qualify for this year’s U-20 WWC.

If the purpose of the U-20 WWC was just to crown the best team as the winner, as long as the best team from CONCACAF qualified through whatever process CONCACAF used, then there would be no problem.

However, if FIFA wants to use youth WWCs for other purposes, such as developing the game, then a format that inherently leads to an unfair result (e.g., has unnecessary risk) does not provide the best economic signalling to associations with limited budgets and/or limited attitudes.  Likewise, if a purpose is to promote the game, not having the best teams at an internationally televised tournament will likely decrease the subjective quality of the tournament.  (Though, there is a possibility that lower quality could equate to more randomness, and thus more interesting matches and performances.)

At a minimum, when there are only two slots available, the final four teams should play a standard “group stage” group.  This way, all four teams play each other and no team gets short-changed by playing a tougher opponent than another.    This is the format that is commonly used in CONMEBOL women’s tournament (example – Wikipedia).

If I was involved with U.S. Soccer, Canada Soccer, and/or the FMF, I would highly suggest that those three lodge a formal protest (ideally, with the support of additional associations) with CONCACAF and FIFA regarding the format of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament and the last minute change in at-large seeding allocation to CONCACAF.  While nothing may come of it this go-around, speaking up now in a constructive way could initiate useful change for future cycles.

Finally, one further option is that FIFA should seriously consider expanding the Under-20 and Under-17 Women’s World Cups to 24 teams, and/or loosen the confederation diversity requirement at the youth WWCs by considering the creation of international preliminary tournaments that would be used to qualify those youth national teams that did not win their confederation’s qualification tournament.

 

(Apologies in advance for not providing supporting citations/links.  Famous last words:  I think my arguments hold up…)