Nations League finalists draw battle lines as Mexico, Panama and Jamaica promise to burst US bubble in Texas

March 6 – With the Concacaf Nations League Finals (CNLF) two weeks away, the confederation has stepped up preparation for the final four event at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Starting March 21 the Dallas Metropolitan area will host the most important Concacaf men’s competition of the year with, sandwiched between the semi-finals and final, the final knock-out play-ins in Frisco, Texas, for the final two Concacaf slots at the Copa America.

Texas has become a key go-to hosting venue for Concacaf having hosted multiple Gold Cup game. The Dallas area will host nine matches for the World Cup in 2026 including a semi-final. It is the first time it has hosted the Nations league, now in its third edition.

“The Nations League has been a gamechanger for Concacaf and transformational for our nations. We have 41 member associations many of whom before the Nations League would play just two matches, home and away, in the four-year cycle between Gold Cups. For a lot of them they were sitting idle for three years, just playing occasional friendlies,” said Phillippe Moggio, Concacaf general secretary.

Philippe Moggio: Nations League has been transformational

“This competition has given all 41 members the opportunity to compete consistently in a 4-year cycle and with the way this is designed, with promotion and relegation, there is something for everyone.”

Moggio makes the point that the competition is raising standards and giving nations the incentive to develop, knowing there is a consistent pathway to the top tier.

The proof of this is that in its third edition, there will now have been seven different nations who have made it to the final four.

Mexico and the USA have been the ever-present countries, the US having won the first two editions beating Mexico in the first final in Denver and Canada last summer in Las Vegas, having beaten Mexico in a spectacular semi-final.

The four national team coaches – Heimir Hallgrímsson (Jamaica), Jaime Lozano (Mexico), Thomas Christiansen (Panama), and Gregg Berhalter (United States) – were in Dallas and had a good opportunity to eyeball each other before the hostilities begin.

USA coach Gregg Berhalter wasn’t on the sidelines in Las Vegas but will be back for Dallas knowing he has a high bar to reach to match the US performance last summer where his team was managed by interim coach BJ Callaghan.

Gregg Berhalter: Desperate for a third title

“For us it is really about respecting all opponents and respecting the level of competition. Nations League is a fantastic tournament, there are four high level teams here. So for us it is about staying humble and focus one game at a time but really we desperately want to get our third title,” said Berhalter.

The US will meet Jamaica in the semi-final. The Reggae Boyz, with a cohort of Premier League stars pushing their international challenge, have promised much under Icelandic coach Heimir Hallgrímsson, but still have to make the big breakthough.

“For us it means that you have time with the players. Normally, especially here in in the Concacaf region when you have players coming from all over the world, you lose normally one day of training compared to for example when you’re when you’re playing with a European team with the European players, everybody is is ready to train on Monday. So you basically cannot spend a lot of time with the players,” said Hallgrimson.

“Tournaments like these and Copa America in the summer give the coach a month with the players, so you can you can grow the team faster, you can gel them together and the players will interact better on the pitch, staying together, knowing each other not only as a football players as but as a person. So that is really helpful to build a team for the future to have this time.”

Asked how close he thought Jamaica were to a breakthrough, he replied: “In two weeks.”

Heimar Hallgrimson: Two weeks to lift off

In the other semi-final, Mexico will play Panama in a rerun of the Gold Cup final that was played at the sold-out SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles last July.

Panama had made the final after beating the USA in the semi-finals in a game that marked their arrival in the top tier of Concacaf nations.

Mexico under Jaime Lozano had put the disappointment of the Nations League loss behind them to win the Gold Cup. But in Thomas Christiansen, Lozano has a wily foe who will have learned from that experience and has no problem coming into the semi-final as the underdog.

Between the two Nations League dates Canada will face Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras will meet Costa Rica for the two final slots in this summer’s Copa America.

It is a big week of national team football with some big reputations on the line.

2023/24 Nations League finals and Play-in schedule:

Thursday, March 21, 2024 – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (Semifinals)
7:00 pm ET (6:00 pm CT/local) United States vs Jamaica
10:15 pm ET (9:15 pm CT/local) Panama vs Mexico

Saturday, March 23, 2024 – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
4:00 pm ET (3:00 pm CT/local) Canada vs Trinidad and Tobago
7:15 pm ET (6:15 pm CT/local) Costa Rica vs Honduras

Sunday, March 24, 2024 – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
6:00 pm ET (5:00 pm CT/local) Loser SF1 vs Loser SF2
9:15 pm ET (8:15 pm CT/local) Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1716035047labto1716035047ofdlr1716035047owedi1716035047sni@n1716035047osloh1716035047cin.l1716035047uap1716035047