Make Nations League Round Robin

So, the 2022-2023 CONCACAF Nations League was truly my first time taking in the competition format and getting to actually watch the rest of CONCACAF play the beautiful game. Despite it being one of the main reasons the Caribbean Cup no longer exists (BRING IT BACK FIFA!! DO THE RIGHT THING!!!), the Nations League has been pretty fun and enjoyable. Getting to see the development of Caribbean talent, the competitiveness of the teams within the groups, some meaningful regional matches, it ticks all the boxes in my eyes. However, there’s a significant change that I would make to make it better.

First a little review before the last fixtures are played:

In League A, none of the Big 4 (USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada) aren’t leading their groups (not yet at least) which I enjoy TREMENDOUSLY. However all of them are going to play their final two matches in this window (you guys see the favoritism here, right?)

Curaçao and Suriname have lots of potential on their squads, but they play Canada and Mexico respectively and they got smoked in their previous encounters so I don’t have a lot of hope for the in those games. Teams like Martinique and Grenada are way out of their depth here.

El Salvador’s Joshua Perez left, and United States’ Tyler Adams fight for the ball during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Cuscatlan Stadium in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

League B is even more fun:

Haiti played well as everyone expected, however if they’re not careful they could still lose out on Promotion. Groups A and B (Haiti’s group) are very tight, with teams like Antigua & Barbuda and Bermuda being some of the surprises of the League, although Zeiko Lewis and Nahki Wells of Bermuda are nice players. Group C is going to be decided in the last game as Trinidad & Tobago and Nicaragua still have to play each other, with St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Bahamas could still play spoiler.

I had a feeling that French Guiana were good because T&T played them last year and they played them tough. However, I didn’t expect them to be THIS good in a group that features Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, who kind of let me down, I thought they’d be better than the 4 points they have now. Montserrat could still try for Gold Cup prelims but their road is harder to travel. SVG, Barbados and Belize are not ready to chill with the big boys yet.

BASSETERRE, SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS. JUNE 9nd: Myles Weston #9 of Antigua y Barbudadrives the ball during the match between Antigua y Barbuda vs Cuba as part of the Nations League 22/23 held at the Complejo Deportivo Parque Warner, 77XG+9Q3, Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis (PHOTO BY JOVANY VELAZQUEZ/CONCACAF/STRAFFON IMAGES/MANDATORY CREDIT/EDITORIAL USER/NOT FOR SALE/NOT ARCHIVE)

League C was fun to watch but for one team in particular:

I had no idea that Bonaire had a football team and they are clearly ready for Group B. League-leading goal scorer Ayrton Cecilia has been a joy to watch and is deserving to play on at least a USL team. Puerto Rico showed that they had no business being in League C. St. Lucia made quick work of their group as well. Group B is so tight that there’s the possibility of all 3 teams ending up on 5 points.

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, US VIRGIN ISLANDS. JUNE 11th: Ayrton Cicilia #7 of Bonaire gestures during the match between US Virgin Islands and Bonaire as part of the 2022 Concacaf Nations League held at the Bethlehem Soccer Complex stadium in Charlotte Amalie, Us Virgin Islands. (PHOTO BY VICTOR STRAFFON/CONCACAF/STRAFFON IMAGES/MANDATORY CREDIT/EDITORIAL USER/NOT FOR SALE/NOT ARCHIVE)

Here’s my gripe with Nations League: I don’t like the group-tournament style. I know there’s a Nations League playoff for a trophy, but the main component of the Nations League — the combination of group stages followed by a knockout stage — I do not believe is sufficient to determine which teams play in the Gold Cup, who gets a chance to qualify for the tournament, and which teams are deemed fit to be promoted or relegated between the three leagues.

Take Trinidad and Tobago for example: I could say that we’re on par with Nicaragua and the Bahamas and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, while giving us some scrappy games, aren’t better than them. And all the Soca Warriors have to do to get to League A is to have more points than these 3 teams? All Haiti has to do is beat 3 teams that most may consider inferior to them? Look at League A and tell me if Martinique and Grenada are having a good time? To me it’s not just a fair assessment of the team’s actual strength, and teams aren’t even getting a fair chance to compete, with them being relegated after only two or three matches.

Now, if Haiti gets to play any of the league leaders in Cuba, French Guiana, or Nicaragua (even Guadeloupe as they’re on par with Cuba in points), then I could maybe gauge, “Okay! Maybe Haiti is the best team in League B and should be promoted.

With a round robin format, everybody gets to play everybody once. I’d prefer a double round-robin but maybe the logistics and the amount of games wouldn’t be sustainable. Also I acknowledge that scheduling conflicts and player fatigue could play a factor as well, especially for the countries in the region with lesser resources. This could even be an issue with just a single round-robin but here’s my argument: at least, say with the round-robin format being implemented, it would ensure that each team plays a fair number of matches and would eliminate the possibility of teams being eliminated after just one or two matches (I know Grenada, Martinique, Curaçao and Suriname wish they had more matches).

We’d probably have an even more intense promotion/relegation battle than what’s about to take place throughout all the groups. Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, T&T, Guadeloupe, Guyana would be a fierce promotion battle. Especially if they’d play twice in a Nations League season, now you’re redeveloping inter-island rivalries again. Imagine seeing Haiti-T&T or T&T-Jamaica twice a year (assuming T&T and Jamaica will be in the same league). You’ll get back your USA-MEX games for sure. Martinique/Guadeloupe games? Suriname/Curaçao playing for Dutch supremacy? Latin American games are always fun.

There’s potential for increased stakes and bragging rights that will only help raise the competitive ceiling for Nations League and make the excitement of the league more enjoyable, especially when chances for spots in the Gold Cup are on the line. It also exposes the “weaker” teams to more developed teams, showing them the experience and talent necessary to make improvements and to become stronger teams in their own right.

PUERTO ESPAÑA, TRINIDAD Y TOBAGO. JUNE 6th: Alvin Jones #16 of Trinidad y Tobago drives the ball during the match between Trinidad y Tobago and Bahamas as part of the 2022/23 Concacaf Nations League held at the HASELY CRAWFORD STADIUM in Puerto España, Trinidad y Tobago. (PHOTO BY ABRAHAM DIAZ/CONCACAF/STRAFFON IMAGES/MANDATORY CREDIT/EDITORIAL USER/NOT FOR SALE/NOT ARCHIVE)

Just to summarize my points: the group/knockout format for the Nations League isn’t enough for me for a proper “league” to play for the Gold Cup. We could keep the playoffs, maybe. For the meat of the CNL however, let’s make it into a traditional club football round-robin league. IF the duration of the international windows allow for it, make it double-round robin.

Everybody within the different leagues get to play everybody at least once. Teams get to play opponents of differing strengths and it would make a proper assessment of who really deserves to be promoted and who gets to be relegated. We re-ignite those international rivalries to some extent if it’s single round-robin. If your team loses 4 games, it’s not the end of the world. In League A, you still have 8 more games to go. You still have games to fight for, either to get in a playoff spot or stave off relegation. Even play spoiler for some teams fighting for playoff spots! There’s so much more excitement here for Nations League if we switch to this format.

If you’re like me and enjoy CONCACAF/Caribbean Football, check out the upcoming Nations League fixtures. The games are just as exciting and fun as those that are in Europe and South America. Trinidad and Tobago will be fighting for automatic qualification to the Gold Cup by facing the Bahamas and Nicaragua. Unless Nicaragua loses to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, those final two games are must-win games for the Soca Warriors. Full schedule for all the games are below.