Would increasing the number of Gold Cup participants from 12 to 16 be a good thing? Is there enough strength in depth to cope? How would this all impact upon the Caribbean?
In pillar 2.3 of his ‘One CONCACAF’ manifesto under the heading Strategic Planning, recently elected CONCACAF boss Victor Montagliani mentions “Cost-benefit analysis of increasing Gold Cup from 12 to 16 teams.” It’s something that has been talked about for a while, as far back as 2007. The Gold Cup started with 8, went up to 9 in 1996, 10 in 1998 and then 12 in 2000. Perhaps the participation hasn’t gone up as drastically in previous times, but the point is it’s been done before.
Below is an examination of such a proposal (and, remember, it is nothing more than that at the moment).
Four groups of four more straightforward
Bringing up the number of teams would create a more straightforward format. At the moment, the top two from each group and two best 3rd place teams advance to the quarter-finals. With 16, there would be four groups of four with the top two from each advancing. That’s less complicated and easier to understand – arguably fairer, too, because those occupying higher positions deservedly go through over those lower down. It’s worth asking the question: if you finish third in your group, should you really progress?
More games, more revenue
An obvious outcome of having more teams playing is more fixtures and with that comes extra cash generated from TV, marketing and so on. Possibly more host cities would be needed in order to accommodate, that’s only natural. But financial gain will no doubt be high on CONCACAF’s list when they assess the 12-16 proposal.
Provide further Caribbean opportunity
Expanding the competition could provide a considerable boost to the Caribbean. Currently, the Gold Cup’s composition is: NAFU (3), UNCAF (4/5) and CFU (4/5). Mexico, USA and Canada are given automatic spots while the Caribbean Cup and Copa Centroamericana serve as the Caribbean and Central American qualifying processes respectively.
From 1991 to 1998, only two countries were allowed to represent the Caribbean at the Gold Cup. In 2000, a qualification play-off group was implemented with Canada and Haiti coming out on top, meaning the latter became a third Caribbean representative. Two years later three direct spots were guaranteed to to the Caribbean and a CFU-UNCAF play-off was introduced. Then in 2007, the Caribbean was granted four spots. Just last year, a CFU-UNCAF play-off (5th place teams from Caribbean Cup and Copa Centroamericana engage) was brought in potentially seeing five Caribbean teams at the Gold Cup. Albeit Honduras beat French Guiana 4-3 on aggregate. So we’ve gone from having two to potentially five Caribbean competitors in the space of just under three decades.
What would the composition look like with 16? Well, NAFU wouldn’t change. Mexico, USA and Canada would continue to be given automatic spots. The changes would presumably affect the CFU and UNCAF. You could involve all 7 UNCAF countries leaving 6 from the CFU which would represent an increase from 4.5. Only problem with that is what would then be the point in the Copa Centroamericana? There wouldn’t be any requirement for an UNCAF qualifying process if all 7 are guaranteed direct spots. Given the Caribbean makes up 31/41 of CONCACAF’s membership, it might make more sense to focus on the CFU’s representation. You could abolish the play-off and just have NAFU (3), UNCAF (5) and CFU (8) resulting in the desired 16. This way you retain the need for the Copa Centroamericana and provide a significant boost to the Caribbean’s presence at the Gold Cup. For this to happen the Caribbean Cup would have to be modified, however. One idea would be to have a 16-team Caribbean Cup with the top two from each group (8 altogether) making the quarter-finals and subsequently the Gold Cup. Or another idea would be to have eight groups of three with the group winners qualifying for the Gold Cup. That would have to be carefully and appropriately thought through by the powers that be.
Hang on, though. Does CONCACAF possess the necessary depth for such a transformation to happen? Personally, I feel it does. The Caribbean has demonstrated solid progress since the Gold Cup’s inception in 1991. Jamaica have reached the knockouts on six occasions, most notably finishing runners-up in 2015, becoming the first Caribbean island to reach the competition’s final in the process. Trinidad & Tobago (T&T), Cuba and Haiti have all qualified for the knockouts three times. In fact, all four – Jamaica, T&T, Cuba and Haiti – qualified for the 2015 quarter-finals; this was the first time each Caribbean participant had made the knockouts. In 2007, Guadeloupe shocked many people by making the semi-finals in their debut Gold Cup campaign. They beat the likes of Canada and Honduras along the way before participating in the following two editions, making the quarter-finals in 2009. Martinique were a penalty shoot-out away from reaching the final four in 2002 but they unfortunately lost 6-5 on penalties to Canada. They beat them in 2013 group play, however. Indeed, the pair aren’t even FIFA affiliated and yet still challenged CONCACAF’s supposedly superior opposition.
Some people might be skeptical about shifting the CFU’s representation from 4.5 to 8. You might think that beyond the traditional big four – Jamaica, T&T, Haiti and Cuba – there is nothing else. But that’s not true. We’ve seen the rise of certain nations throughout the current Caribbean Cup qualifying cycle. St Kitts & Nevis are in very good form, Curacao have benefited from Patrick Kluivert’s management and experience, Puerto Rico are a rising force with the help of some US-born professionals, Antigua & Barbuda are a competitive outfit when all of their best players come together, Guyana are capable of breaking into the top Caribbean bracket, French Guiana continue to punch above their weight, Martinique have a talented squad and previous Gold Cup experience, Suriname have perhaps exceeded expectations by reaching the final qualification round and the Dominican Republic keep on defying the odds. I think the Caribbean could quite feasibly field 8 teams at the Gold Cup and not have to worry about being embarrassed, which some skeptics might think would happen.
There have been eight different Caribbean countries at the Gold Cup: Jamaica, T&T, Haiti, Cuba, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada and St Vincent & the Grenadines. It would be brilliant to expand that list and witness other up-and-coming teams make a mark on the region’s flagship tournament. After all, is there really any need to feature invitational teams such as Brazil and South Korea? Focus on your own confederation first.
Let’s not scrap the Gold Cup
There’s also been some recent talk in the media that the Gold Cup might actually be scrapped and replaced by a CONCACAF-CONMEBOL combined Copa America. The Copa 100 held last month proved on the whole very successful on and off the pitch and this has helped drive the talk.
I’m all for having a tournament merging the best in the Americas but not at the expense of the Gold Cup. Surely the Gold Cup and Copa America can run simultaneously with an Americas tournament mirroring the Copa 100 model occurring before or after? Getting rid of the Gold Cup would leave question marks over the Caribbean Cup’s existence and probably stunt the development of many Caribbean national programmes as games would presumably be less frequent.
For me, the focus should be on building and strengthening the Gold Cup and not taking it down. Do let me know your thoughts in the comments box below, though, because it’s an interesting debate.
Let’s wait and see what (or rather if) anything significant happens regarding the Gold Cup. Montagliani is clearly an advocate, fans are generally in favour. The potential is certainly there for 12-16 participation to happen.
By Nathan Carr
Thank you for reading! What do you think about the potential Gold Cup expansion? Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.