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Amid qualifying chatter, players support current format

FRISCO, Texas – U.S. Soccer and Canada will battle at the 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship final Wednesday night at Toyota Stadium, but should they be playing each other in a final match? The format Concacaf uses to determine which teams qualify for the World Cup is not unique to what other FIFA Associations and Confederations use but unlike Europe, qualifying is condensed into two weeks.

The top two teams from Group A and Group B advanced to the semifinals. In Group A, U.S.A beat Jamaica, 6-0. Canada topped Group B and defeated Panama, 7-0.

Jamaica and Panama will play each other in a third place match with the winner qualifying for the World Cup. The loser has one last shot at qualifying for France. They’ll take on Argentina home and away on November 5 and November 13.

UEFA used a qualification process that had seven Groups of five teams each. Each group winner qualified for the World Cup. The top four-second place teams faced off in a home and away playoff. The two final playoff teams, Netherlands and Switzerland will play on November 9 and November 13. The winner will earn a spot at the World Cup.

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Is it time for Concacaf to switch to a different qualifying process?

“To be honest, I’ve played in Europe and I’ve kind of seen it,” Steph Labbe told The Equalizer. “We’ve talked about it, the pros and cons. We get tournament expertise and the ability to train in a tournament format. All of those things prep us for a tournament. That’s the positive we take out it. We’re playing games tight, back to back, in a tournament mode. In a tournament you’ve got to go deep in your squad. It’s great preparation.”

It’s great preparation for Jamaica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and Cuba to feel what it’s like to play higher ranked teams in a competitive, quick, and fast developing tournament.

Having to play five matches in a two-week window is great practice for what will take place at the World Cup. It’s a great opportunity for players to bond, and for coaches, and staff to work on tactics, strategies and try out specific game plans for the opposition.

“Honestly, I was just talking about that with someone,” Lindsey Horan revealed. “I kind of like our setup because it’s a two-week tournament. It feels like a tournament where you’re actually qualifying for them. Games sporadically throughout the year, it’s just very different. Each camp they’re going into preparing to qualify for a World Cup. I think there’s a lot more pressure each camp that they’re going in on. I think both are cool. I really like our setup, just because it benefits us in other ways.”

If you’re not the United States, your games will not be played in your home country. Imagine if Canada, Costa Rica, and Mexico, could play at least three matches at home in a home-and-away qualification process. What better way to showcase women’s football to countries outside of the U.S. who otherwise don’t get to see their home team play?

“I’ve obviously only known this format,” Shelina Zadorksy explained. “Globally it could be good to get teams on the same page. However, I guess the tournament style gets all these teams in one spot. I’m not sure in terms of financially what makes the most sense. I would love to play home and away games, every player like to play at home.”

In some instances it’s cheaper for countries to send their team to one or two locations in the U.S. or Canada and compete in a tournament style. It could potentially cost a lot more financially to travel inside Concacaf if they had to do that three times in qualification.

It’s also important to note that the quality of competition in Concacaf is not yet where it needs to be. No. 1 ranked U.S. and 5th ranked Canada are a long way ahead of their opponents. While Costa Rica and Mexico have made strides, they took big steps back this tournament after failing to make it out of the group stage. Concacaf just doesn’t have the number of competitive teams that players, fans, and media are used to seeing in UEFA.

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“I don’t think that on the women’s side of Concacaf is at a point where we can do a long hex, or like the Europeans teams do,” Megan Rapinoe said. “Honestly, I think for us that would be very frustrating. We’d have to play a lot of games all over the place. That would mess up our traveling circus of friendly games around the country, and that’s something that’s important to us. We get to choose the teams we play often times. We get to benefit in a multitude of ways. Competition wise, I don’t think Concacaf on the women’s side is really there. I don’t think it’s feasible right now.”

Sometimes it’s good to just go with the flow and what you know. Concacaf has used this format and that’s what everyone is familiar with. If there was an adjustment to go with a UEFA style process, how well would that be received, and would players support it?

“I think this tournament has been like this for a long time,” Kailen Sheridan said. “We’ve kind of got use to it. As for right now, this is what we have. Two days to recover from is tough, but we’re so focused in what we have. If we are given a different qualifying, it would be cool. This team has truly mastered recovery, and we’re good for this tournament.”

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The process to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is different to what’s taking place for the World Cup. The Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship will take place in February, 2020. The two Concacaf semifinal winners will head to Japan. The women’s football tournament at the Olympics will feature just 12 teams.

In the end, they don’t ask you how you qualify, as long as you do qualify.

“I don’t mind it,” Julie Ertz said. “I don’t really know anything else differently from performing. I enjoy it.”

Notes: The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament draw will take place on Saturday, December 8 at La Seine Musicale, in Paris, France.

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