By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jul 18, 2022) US Soccer Players – We interrupt your focus on MLS and preseason tours this summer with talk about the upcoming World Cup. The tournament, now just four months away, remains on the horizon as fans around the world await the start of Qatar 2022. For those with an eye on Concacaf, the confederation will have four representatives at the tournament in the US, Mexico, Canada, and Costa Rica.
The region’s supremacy has gravitated away from Central America and the Caribbean, something highlighted by Canada’s first World Cup appearance since 1986. Costa Rica, the lone representative from outside of what Concacaf calls the North America zone, qualified after defeating New Zealand last month in a playoff match.
Recent friendlies and Concacaf Nations League games gave us a chance to assess players and teams just months out from the World Cup. A FIFA international window in September will provide one last glimpse ahead of the tournament’s November 21 start. In fact, this quartet of Concacaf nations could be the strongest ever from the confederation to feature at a World Cup finals.
Concacaf teams could very well pull off some upsets at the World Cup. The USMNT is certainly poised to do so. Mexico, meanwhile, regularly makes it out of the group stage and will be looking for that elusive “fifth game” by aiming for the quarterfinals. Canada and Costa Rica could be Cinderella sides as well. The Ticos did just that in 2014 when they stunned the field by reaching the quarterfinals.
As we wait for the next international break, here’s a look at the four Concacaf teams and what tactics might be in play at World Cup level.
Under coach Gregg Berhalter, the USMNT has impressed with each player doing their part to put together a strong unit. Youth has certainly helped this team, despite some growing pains, and Berhalter’s 4-3-3 has yielded results like capturing the Gold Cup and Nations League last summer.
Previous US coaches liked to utilize a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Instead, Berhalter prefers the 4-3-3, but has experimented with a 3-5-2 and 3-2-3 depending on injuries and who is available to start. This type of flexibility can benefit the US in a short tournament like the World Cup. The team’s ability to never-say-die and push for a result until the very end is always something the Americans bring to international soccer.
There are many bright spots for the US. Weston McKennie in the midfield gives the team plenty of ball control and possession. In attack, Tim Weah on the wing has been impressive. Alongside him is Christian Pulisic, a player that comes along once in a generation. That’s just to name three players on a team that has depth thanks to a mix of MLS and European-based stars.
El Tri has been in a bit of a slump recently as coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino looks to right the ship. Mexico scheduled an extra friendly right before the June window opened for a total of four before Martino made multiple changes for the Nations League. That created opportunity, but the results increased the pressure on the program.
Tactically, Martino utilizes a 4-1-4-1, but his team takes on a 4-3-3 shape once they have the ball in the attacking third. The defense likes to join in the attack, something that adds flair to the offense. It also can make Mexico a bit reckless in the back and that’s something that has hurt them in big games.
Martino is a brilliant coach and there’s no reason to underestimate El Tri. He may want to change up his callups, despite there being very little time, and start more Liga MX players like Pachuca defender Jesus Angulo and Atlas midfielder Aldo Rocha to help supplant a side that’s always a protagonist at the World Cup.
With coach John Herdman at the helm, a revitalized Canada ultimately proved to be a powerful side during World Cup Qualifying. With an infusion of youth, Herdman used the 4-4-2 to full effect. The result was lots of goals, plenty of midfield possession, and a consistency that allowed them to dominate and qualify with some ease.
The team used a 3-4-2-1 as well, but Alphonso Davies’ injury forced some changes in the latter stages of qualifying. What really makes Canada so strong is their ability to maintain possession, but also take advantage of the counterattack whenever they do lose the ball. Teams that play this way are always ripe to pull off an upset.
Canada looks better with a 4-4-2 because it helped solidify their defense. It could be what Herdman sticks with, even now that Davies is back, at the World Cup. This formation also allows Herdman to play with Cyle Larin and Jonathan David up top, a formidable attacking duo.
Mention the Ticos and the magic of that 2014 World Cup quarterfinal run still comes to mind. It’s been eight years since that Cinderella side stunned everyone by winning their group against Italy, England, and Uruguay. The 2022 version of this team squeezed into the finals this time around.
Costa Rica’s coach Luis Fernando Suarez also likes to use the traditional 4-4-2, but it has often lacked the offensive power of past Tico sides. The forward tandem of Joel Campbell and Anthony Contreras is what Suarez went with in the playoff game, and it worked.
There are some holdovers from that 2014 side, including goalkeeper Keylor Navas, defender Oscar Duarte, midfielders Claudio Borges and Yeltsin Tejeda, along with Campbell. That experience could help should this team figure out a way to be consistent in the attacking third.
The World Cup can’t come soon enough. The game continues to be focused on Europe and South America, but Concacaf teams could raise eyebrows. A lot of it will depend on the lineups and the ability to successfully employ the tactics that got the four of them to Qatar.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Sporting Kansas City in MLS is only part of the story in 2022
- The 2022 summer touring schedule features big name clubs and USMNT players
- Waiting on the September FIFA window
- Three games in for the USMNT in the June, 2022 window
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com