Concacaf W Gold Cup preview: USWNT’s chances, format and more

An invaluable chance for redemption is within reach for North America’s two major powerhouses in women’s national team soccer. After the United States and Canada failed to live up to expectations in last year’s World Cup, the latest script for both sides can now be rewritten during the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup, a 12-team international women’s tournament that is set to kick off for the first time on Tuesday.

Featuring eight Concacaf representatives and four guests from Conmebol (South America), a chance to make a claim as the best in the Americas will be on the line for not only high-profile squads like the U.S. and Canada, but also a handful of dark horses that are on the rise. The teams are split into three groups of four, with the top two from each group and the two best third-placed teams then moving onto the knockout round that concludes with a final at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium on March 10.

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Looking ahead to the tournament’s debut, there’s plenty of intrigue about how it will all play out and on the possible impact it can have for the women’s game, but before discussing what it means to those involved, let’s first dive into how and why the W Gold Cup came about.

The creation of the W Gold Cup

In an effort to increase the number of women’s national team games within the region, Concacaf, FIFA’s governing body for North American soccer, revealed a new four-year calendar in 2020 that would lead up to a revamped World Cup qualification tournament (eventually named the “Concacaf W Championship”) in 2022, as well as a brand new “Women’s Concacaf Nations League” in 2024.

“The new calendar prioritized more official match dates for all women’s senior national teams in Concacaf, and ensuring an elite competition to showcase the highest level of women’s international football,” according to a press release that included the qualification routes for both tournaments. “Through this new calendar, Concacaf will more than double the number of official senior women’s national team matches compared with the current cycle of competitions.”

Additional details were added in 2021. Along with qualification for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, 2022’s Concacaf W Championship would also provide a path into the 2024 Olympics. The two invitees into the Olympics were then also granted entry into 2024’s Women’s Concacaf Nations League Final tournament, which was rebranded as the Concacaf W Gold Cup.



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While the U.S. (winners of the 2022 Concacaf W Championship) and Canada (Concacaf W Championship finalists, Olympic play-in winners) claimed those two invitations, the rest of the Concacaf region would go on to take part in a preliminary “Road to the Concacaf W Gold Cup” competition. Resembling a Nations League structure that has recently been used to provide more meaningful games for men’s national teams, but with different branding, women’s national teams were now given a chance to do the same.

Building up to this month’s W Gold Cup — which, like the men’s Gold Cup, is to be played every four years according to the tournament’s 55-page regulations — a long-awaited push for more official games in women’s soccer was underway.

“The W Gold Cup Final [tournament] will not only crown the champion of what is now Concacaf’s flagship women’s international competition, but it will also cap off a 4-year cycle where teams from the region will have competed in a minimum of 195 official matches, which represents 118% increase in comparison to the previous four-year cycle,” stated a press release in 2021.

“Together, the 2021 Concacaf W Qualifiers, 2022 Concacaf W Championship, 2023 Road to Concacaf W Gold Cup, and 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup will accelerate the growth of Women’s Football and provide a consistent structure of matches and competitions for our Member Associations.”

More matches are undoubtedly better for countless mid-to-lower tier teams in Concacaf that don’t have the same opportunities or resources as those regional powerhouses above them. Providing a pathway to a tournament like the W Gold Cup, and the additional platform through it, is also crucial. Looking at those powerhouses though, this isn’t to say that the U.S. and Canada can’t benefit from the W Gold Cup either. Aside from eagerly wanting to bounce back from disappointment on the global stage with a continental title, there is significance beyond another championship for the traditional giants of Concacaf.

Olympic prep and showcasing a new generation

“This Gold Cup is amazing preparation for us for the Olympics,” said U.S. defender Emily Fox during a recent press conference. “It’s the longest time we’re going to have together as a team [before the Olympics], an entire month. So I think for us, our focus is on the Gold Cup and on the tournament and how we can learn from it and prep for the Olympics.”

While both the U.S. and Canada have explicitly noted that winning the W Gold Cup is the goal, there’s also the added benefit of having an extended period of time to train and take part in official matches just months before Paris 2024. It’s worth noting that of the 12 teams that will take part in women’s soccer at the Olympics, four (the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Colombia) will be in the W Gold Cup.

“It’s such a cool opportunity to have a major tournament like this that kind of exemplifies the Olympics and gets us prepared for that,” said U.S. captain and midfielder Lindsey Horan. “What we do here can really train us and mentally prepare us for what we might have to deal with in France, but first and foremost, this is a major tournament itself and we want to win.”

For Canada head coach Bev Priestman, it could also help ease some roster-related headaches. “I don’t know about you, but trying to get this to a 23 [player] roster was very hard and then to try and get it to 18 [players for the Olympics] — I think some of the principles that we’ve used in terms of trying to think about this Gold Cup is about players who could play in multiple positions, fitness.

“All these sorts of things around Olympic rosters is going to come into play,” said Priestman, who recently extended her coaching contract to 2027 last month. “We won’t be where we want to be in July by this Gold Cup, but what I hope we can do is continue the positive momentum in terms of what we’ve seen on the pitch. I think absolutely, we’re here to try and win this thing, but we also have July in mind.”

Through that process, there’s also a noteworthy changing of the guard for both teams that will be tested in the W Gold Cup.

For the U.S., 11 members of the roster are 25 or younger. In a transitional period under interim coach Twila Kilgore (prior to Chelsea Women boss Emma Hayes taking the reigns in the summer), and without the likes of goalscoring veteran Alex Morgan or a retired legend Megan Rapinoe in the squad, prominent roles are up for grabs.

“It’s just a great opportunity to get in with the team and show myself,” said Jenna Nighswonger, the 23-year-old defender that won an NWSL title and Rookie of the Year award in 2023 with NJ/NY Gotham. “I think we’re going after gold obviously in this tournament and every game is looking to help us for the Olympics.”

“The younger girls coming in are so, so talented. They have such a bright future and they bring creativity and flair on the field,” said U.S. defender Abby Dahlkemper after a recent training session. “They’re fearless and passionate, they fit in and they gel in really well with the group. It’s an exciting time for this team, just kind of seeing the progress of younger players coming in.”

Canada are also looking forward to the impact of younger names. Without the iconic Christine Sinclair who retired from international play in late 2023, and through a roster (like the U.S.) that has 11 players that are 25 are younger, more will be expected from youthful call-ups that now have a chance to thrive at the W Gold Cup.

“I’m excited to see people step up and I don’t mean one individual, I mean a group of people now,” said Priestman. “Whenever you have a veteran group around, not by design just by nature, people kind of take that back seat a little bit more, but what I started to see at the back end of last year is people grabbing the reins a little bit.”

Underdogs from Latin America and the Caribbean

Of course, this tournament is much more than just the U.S. and Canada. Circling back to additional games provided in Concacaf and the ongoing development of women’s soccer across the globe, long gone are the days when elite squads could coast through competitions.

“Within my experience of being on the national team, the growth of Caribbean teams and Latin American teams have been huge…in general, I think as a whole, everyone [in women’s soccer] is getting better and better, which we love to see,” said Fox. “We saw that in the Euros, in Concacaf for [World Cup] qualifying for us, and then also in the World Cup last year. So I think for us, going into the Gold Cup, we know each game is going to be a challenge and a lot of teams have really amazing individual talent.”

That talent is best highlighted by Colombia’s young phenom Linda Caicedo, who was runner-up for 2023’s The Best FIFA Women’s Player award. In the same manner that she was a breakout star at the World Cup as Colombia reached the quarterfinals, other up-and-coming names from Latin America and the Caribbean can make a name for themselves in an official tournament like the W Gold Cup.

“These aren’t friendlies anymore,” stated Horan. “It’s tournament play and each team gives a different kind of game in tournament play. You’re going out to win games, you’re going out to get points…these teams are going to make it difficult for us.”

With recent World Cup experience under their belts and promising runs through the Road to Concacaf W Gold Cup, Costa Rica and Panama could pose a threat in this tournament. Elsewhere, marquee invites from Conmebol like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia won’t be walkovers after finishing in the top three of 2022’s Copa America Femenina. As for Colombia, no team in the W Gold Cup went further than them in the latest World Cup.

“The tournament is giving us totally different styles of play, which is brilliant, in terms of confederations and styles within South America, Concacaf,” said Canada’s Priestman. “It’s a great test for us.”

Of the rising teams, Mexico also look the most capable of possibly upsetting the order. Boosted by the hiring of new head coach Pedro Lopez, the women’s national team charged through 2023 without a single loss in all competitions. One week before the start of the W Gold Cup, and seeking redemption for his team that failed to qualify for the World Cup before he was hired, Mexico’s manager provided one of the more noteworthy pre-tournament quotes that conveys the confidence of a squad that has benefitted and grown through additional matches in their international calendar.

“Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Lopez when asked about the state of his roster. “In other words, people are seeing the sheep on the outside, but inside there is a wolf that wants to come out and wants to vindicate itself in front of the entire world.”

Will all go to plan for the U.S. and Canada as they search for a title and prepare for the Olympics? Will an underdog step out from the shadows and make a statement in the inaugural women’s tournament?

We’ll begin to find out when it all kicks off on Feb. 20.