What is Concacaf?

What is Concacaf?

“Concacaf” is an abbreviation for  “The Confederation of North, Central and Caribbean Association Football”.

Concacaf is under the umbrella as one of FIFA’s six continental governing bodies.

This is made up of 41 members and was founded in 1961 in Mexico.

Areas covered by Concacaf and Member Associations

Concacaf represents countries from North America which include the Caribbean and Central America, as well as three nations from South America (Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana).

Some of the most successful teams within the Concacaf association are The United States, Mexico and Costa Rica who have all participated in FIFA World Cups in recent years.

History of Concacaf

Concacaf was formed in Mexico City, the founding members being Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, Suriname and The United States.

Concacaf currently has active national team competitions such as the Concacaf Gold Cup, Nations League, U20, U17, U15 Championships, Womens Gold Cup, Women’s Championship and more.

They have club competitions too which consist of the Concacaf Champions League, Leagues Cup, Central American Cup, Caribbean Cup, Caribbean Shield, Under 13’s Champions League and Futsal Cup.

Concacaf Gold Cup

The biggest competition between national teams from this region is known as the Concacaf Gold Cup.

This was founded in 1991, taking over from the Concacaf Championship which ran from 1963-1989.

The Gold Cup is held every two years, and the 17th edition of the Gold Cup will be held in June/July 2023 in Canada and the United States.

Only three teams have won the Gold Cup in the previous 16 contests, Mexico winning 8 titles, United States winning 7 titles and Canada winning the other title.

The Gold Cup is held with a group stage format, currently having 4 groups of 4 teams. The top two teams from each group continue to the knockout phase leading to the final.

The impact of this competition has allowed the top prospects from this region to compete for a prestigious honour, and be seen on the big stage. This had then led to the progression of these national talents and earned them big moves to European teams.

This can then act as a development cycle, as these players gain more exposure and inspire young children from their nation to participate in the sport, leading back to the start of the progression cycle.

Concacaf Champions League

The Concacaf Champions League is known officially as the “ Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League”.

It was founded in 1962, and was rebranded in 2008 with some format changes.

This competition acts as the most prestigious club competition within Concacaf and their region.

The format of this competition consists of 4 LIGA MX teams, 4 MLS teams, 3 Concacaf League teams (Hondurus), as well as 1 team from each of the Canada, Haiti, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama leagues.

This competition starts from the round of 16 after the teams are drawn into each of their fixtures. This is then a knockout format tournament, consisting of two legs (home and away) before an aggregate score decides the winner of the tie.

This competition allows the best clubs from their nation within this region to compete against each other, and challenge to be the Champions of the Concacaf umbrella regions.

This gives the clubs and the players the best chance to compete and showcase their talent and ability against the best teams.

Concacaf Nations League

The Concacaf Nations League was founded in 2018, and is made up of 41 teams.

This tournament is an international competition for senior men’s national teams from the member associations of Concacaf.

This competition has a format divided into three tiers of leagues. A, B and C, each having four groups within them.

The winners of each of the four groups in League A enter a four team knockout competition to be crowned the champion of the Nations League.

The winners of the four groups in Leagues B and C gain promotion to the next league e.g. B moves to A.

The bottom members of each group in Leagues A and B are relegated to the tier below, e.g. B moves down to C.

From the 2023/24 season, Concacaf have announced the size of League A will be increased from 12 teams, to 16 teams and will now feature a quarter final round at the end of the league format.

This will follow a Swiss system tournament format using the Concacaf Rankings to decipher the lowest twelve ranked teams to be divided into two groups of six and contest to be within the top four teams to qualify.

The top four ranked teams will automatically qualify for the quarter final stage of this competition.

Growth of Football in North America

The growth of football in North America, and more specifically the United States and Canada has been monumental over the past few years.

Just last year in November 2022, the MLS Cup gained 2.16m viewers, which was the largest US TV audience for a championship game in 25 years.

The impact of the MLS acquiring top level footballers coming to the end of their career has bolstered the leagues viewership.

The likes of Gareth Bale, David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney all enjoyed strong stints in American football, as well as many others.

There is an emphasis on college football in the United States and Canada, its aim is to develop footballers who can then go on to play in the MLS.

Known as the “NCAA Soccer tournament”, this was first played in 1959 and has three divisions within the NCAA.

The top players from within the college teams go on to play in the MLS or other professional leagues.

Some names that have come through the college system and gone on to play in the MLS or other top professional leagues are, DeAndre Yedlin, Zac Steffen and Gyasi Zardes.

Women’s Football

The Concacaf Women’s Championship was founded in 1991 and there have been 11 editions of this competition.

The most recent being in 2022, held in Mexico and won by the United States.

Only two teams have won in the 11 editions of the competition, the United States winning 9 times and Canada winning twice.

The Women’s Championship also now acts as a qualifier for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The Concacaf Council has also discussed and approved the launch of a women’s club competition.

Concacaf has now agreed in principle to launch a women’s club competition in 2024. “The ongoing growth and development of women’s football is a major priority for Concacaf,” said Victor Montagliani, Concacaf president and Fifa vice president.

World Cup Qualification

Concacaf also acts as a qualifier for the FIFA World Cup.

The new qualification process format was announced on February 28th, 2023.

Of the 41 member associations within Concacaf , only those affiliated with FIFA can compete, therefore meaning 35 teams are eligible to compete in the qualifying process.

FIFA stated “It is possible for as many as eight teams from the North America, Central America and Caribbean confederation to compete in the 2026 World Cup ”.

The new qualification format will take place for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

There will be three rounds, plus two inter-confederation play offs.

The first round consists of four teams (who are the lowest ranked in the confederation as of November 2023. This will have a home and away leg before concluding an aggregate score to decide the winner of the tie.

The two winners from the first round ties progress to the second round.

The second round is made up of 30 teams, the other 28 teams joining the qualifiers in this round. There are six groups of five teams, each team will host two matches, and the top two teams in each group will advance.

The third and final round consists of 12 teams, which will be divided into three groups of four teams.

They will then play in a double round robin league format, with the winners gaining direct World Cup spots. The two highest ranked runner up teams will then compete in the inter confederation play off to gain a World Cup spot.

For the 2026 World Cup, the United States, Mexico and Canada have already confirmed their spots in the competition as the hosts.

Future Outlook for Concacaf 

The future of Concacaf included new strategies, initiatives and responsibility for driving football development within the region.

Concacaf have announced their “Bigger Game, Social Responsibility Strategy” in 2023.

Their mission is to “use the power and reach of the beautiful game to provide football and social development opportunities which benefit communities across Concacaf’s 41 member associations”.

This strategy will support grassroots football and initiate changes with social programs being introduced, aiming to tackle some of the most pressing issues within the region.

The Bigger Game plans to integrate social change, create volunteer education packages to help uplift young people in their communities, implement a response plan to natural disasters in the region and amplify the voices of the program to share the best practices.

This amongst other initiatives have been outlined to help develop and progress the development and integrity of the sport in the Concacaf region.

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