The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team is aiming for two honors at the 2018 Concacaf Under-20 Championship: as defending champion, the USA will seek to hold on to the regional title and claim one of four berths to the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Poland.
Here are five things to know about this tournament, to be played from Nov. 1-21at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.:
WHAT IS THE CONCACAF UNDER-20 CHAMPIONSHIP?
The Concacaf Under-20 Championship tournament determines the regional champion for North America, Central America and the Caribbean at this level. It also serves as the confederation’s qualifying tournament for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Known as the Concacaf Youth Tournament when it debuted in Panama in 1962, the first six editions were simply regional championships. It wasn’t until the 1976 tournament that the event began to serve as qualification, in this case for the inaugural FIFA World Youth Championship in 1977 (now known as the FIFA U-20 World Cup), which has been held biannually ever since.
Played under various formats throughout its 56-year-long history, the tourney determined two U-20 World Cup berths for Concacaf from 1976 to 1994. Since 1996, four nations have qualified from Concacaf.
Before this year, the USA previously hosted the 1980 competition and was co-host in 2002 and 2005. Guatemala has been the most frequent tournament host with six overall.
ANOTHER NEW FORMAT
Unlike World Cup qualifying at the senior level, which is a 2-3 year process, the Concacaf U-20 Championship is played all at once and lasts roughly three weeks.
The 2018 edition marks Concacaf’s largest U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament ever, with 34 participating member associations. The format features four groups of six teams and two groups of five teams.
Following round-robin group play, the top team in each of the six groups will advance to the qualification stage, where they will be divided into two groups of three. After a second edition of round-robin play, the two group winners plus the runners-up will qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Additionally, the two group winners will advance to the tournament final on Nov. 21 to determine the confederation champion.
- The tournament has used various formats through its first 26 editions, including a period from 1998-2007 where five tournaments were played in two countries without a decisive champion. Instead, the top two finishers from each four-team group simply earned a spot at the U-20 World Cup.
- In 2009, the final round returned to two groups played in a single country to decide a winner, with each semifinalist qualifying for the U-20 World Cup and the two finalists competing for the Concacaf title.
- The field was expanded to 12 teams in 2011, although each of the last three tournaments has been played with a different format.
- In 2015, the competition consisted of two groups of six playing a round-robin stage. The winners of each played for the final (and qualified directly to the World Cup), while the second and third-place teams played one-game playoffs for the final two berths.
- In 2017, the 12 teams were split into three groups of four, with the top two teams after round-robin play advancing to the classification stage, which consisted of two groups of six. After another round robin, the top two teams from each group qualified for the World Cup, and the winners played for the confederation title, where the USA defeated Honduras on penalty kicks to claims its first Concacaf U-20 crown.
Based on the Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Ranking, the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, and El Salvador enter as the tournament’s top six seeds and head each of the six groups:
Group A: USA, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Puerto Rico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, U.S. Virgin Islands
Group B: Mexico, Jamaica, Aruba, Nicaragua, Grenada, Saint Martin
Group C: Honduras, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic, Belize, Sint Maarten
Group D: Panama, Canada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique
Group E: Costa Rica, Haiti, Bermuda, St. Lucia, Barbados
Group F: El Salvador, Guatemala, Curacao, Guyana, Cayman Islands
All matches will be played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. starting on Nov. 1.
U.S. HISTORY IN THE TOURNAMENT
The USA returns to the Concacaf U-20 Championship as the title holder after capturing its first U-20 regional title in March 2017, defeating Honduras in penalty kicks in the final in Costa Rica. Prior to last year, the USA’s best finish was second place, accomplished six times (most recently in 2013).
The USA is tied with Mexico for most appearances by a Concacaf nation at the U-20 World Cup with 15 each (out of 21 total), and the U.S. has qualified for 10 of the last 11 tournaments. After missing out in 2011, Tab Ramos was brought on as head coach and the MNT legend has led the U-20s to three consecutive World Cups.
The last two U-20 teams have advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals. In 2015, the team bowed out to eventual champion Serbia on penalty kicks in New Zealand, and the 2017 squad fell in the quarterfinals to eventual tournament runner-up Venezuela 2-1 in extra time in South Korea.
WORLD CUP AWAITS
A total of 24 teams will compete in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland next May. Aside from the hosts, the other 23 nations will qualify through confederation tournaments. To date, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, France and Norway will represent Europe, New Zealand and Tahiti booked their spots through Oceana, and Japan, Korea Republic, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have come through out of Asia.
England, winner of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, became the sixth consecutive champion to fail to qualify for the next U-20 World Cup.