The powers that govern regional soccer expanded the field in the bi-annual Gold Cup competition to allow more Caribbean nations to compete in the tournament, and the islanders are making the most of the opportunity. Three island nations are preparing for quarterfinal appearances this weekend.
The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football expanded its field for the Gold Cup, the biennial regional competition, from 12 to 16, allowing more Caribbean nations to compete.
“As of 2017, only 10 of our 31 Caribbean Member Associations have played in the Gold Cup – that ratio of inclusion is not high enough for our premier championship,” said CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani in a March 2018 interview on the federation’s website. “I think this shows very clearly how the expansion brings those nations one step closer to success, creating access to the Gold Cup for many more.”
Given the chance to participate in this year’s tournament, the region’s teams have not disappointed.
On Monday night, Haiti, ranked 101st in the world, defeated the team ranked third in the region and 39th in the world, Costa Rica, 2-1, and left group B unscathed and on the top of their group for the first time in their nations Gold Cup history.
The game went down to the wire, with the winning goal was scored by 21-year-old Djimy Alexis with just about 10 minutes left.
Alexis redeemed himself with the goal after an earlier mistake, when his deflection ended up in the back of the Haiti net accounted for Costa Rica’s only goal.
Haiti’s other victories in the group stage were 2-1 Bermuda and 2-0 over Nicaragua.
Haiti will face Canada at 7 p.m. Saturday and the game will be televised from Houston on Fox Sports 1.
Curacao, which came into the Gold Cup ranked 79th and is making their its Gold Cup appearance, used its first Gold Cup goal to defeat Honduras, 61st in the world, 1-0 and earn its first ever Gold Cup victory.
Curacao was level with El Salvador on points, but advanced to the quarterfinals based on goal differential. Needing at least a draw against Jamaica to still have a chance of advancement, Curacao scored a stoppage time equalizer, a rocket of a strike by Jurien Garri that earned them a point with a 1-1 draw.
Curacao scores against Jamaica.
Later that evening they still needed Honduras to beat El Salvador, which they did by a 4-0 score, to make the knockout rounds.
Curacao’s quarterfinal game will be against the United States at 8 p.m. Sunday USA in Philadelphia, and will be available on Fox Sports One.
Jamaica, the highest ranked Caribbean side at 54th in the world rankings, topped Group C with a win over Honduras and a draws with El Salvador and Curacao.
Jamaica will face Panama in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox Sports One from Philadelphia.
Jamaica became the first Caribbean nation to host Gold Cup games, as the first games of Group C were played at Independence Park in Kingston.
Bermuda, 174th in the rankings and competing in the Gold Cup for the first time, defeated 124th ranked Nicaragua, 2-0.
It was Bermuda’s only win and they did not advance out of Group B, finishing third behind Haiti and Costa Rica.
Guyana also made it’s Gold Cup debut during this summer’s tournament, hanging around with the United States for the first half and scoring its first and second Gold Cup goals in a 4-2 loss to Panama.
The Guyanans secured their first point with a 1-1 score Trinidad and Tobago.
One reason for the Caribbean’s success this time around could be the formation of the Nations League. The league’s mission was to make sure smaller nations were given the opportunity to play more competitive games and, in the initial round of the competition to determine what leagues the countries would play in, doubled as a Gold Cup Qualifier.
The teams to qualify to the Gold Cup through the Nations League were Haiti, Canada, Martinique, Curacao, Bermuda, Cuba, Guyana, Jamaica, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The competitive games created by Nations League replaced friendlies that smaller nations would have issues scheduling.
The USVI, ranked as the 199th best side globally, still has a way to go before they get to the Gold Cup standard. The territory’s side plays in League C of the Nations League, but the positive showing of the region in this years Gold Cup shows that with increasingly competitive matches – which the V.I. will begin to take part in Sept. 8 when they start group play against St. Martin – results in better results on bigger stages.
The USVI will play in a group that contains Barbados, Cayman Islands and the aforementioned St. Martin, with the winner of the group moving up to League B of the Nations League.
The format of the group stage will see each team play every other team in the group twice, once at home and once away, with the winner of the group being the team to accumulate the most amount of points after six matches.
According to CONCACAF.com, the Nations League will allow group C teams to develop “in a truly competitive environment.”