Updated: Dec 10, 2020
The US and Canada dominate the region, but don't ignore everyone else. There are excellent players up and down the ranks.
The United States women recently ran roughshod through the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament, scoring 25 goals and conceding zero. Canada, their opponent in the final, scored 23 and conceded just three (all against the US). Even as plenty of other teams in the tournament showed progress, the gap between the big two and the rest only seems to be getting wider. And really, the US is on a tier of its own.
One simple way of characterizing that fact is to ask which players from the region would make a 23-woman roster. Virtually everyone would agree that the US would make up the lion’s share of the roster. Your individual mileage may vary, but I can see only five or six non-US players who’d plausibly make the cult. For me, the two certainties are Ashley Lawrence and Kailen Sheridan of Canada, who would probably be deserving starters. From the rest, there’s a strong argument for Kadeisha Buchanan (Canada) and Bunny Shaw (Jamaica). With Alex Morgan out due to pregnancy, Shaw might even be the best pick as a central striker on an all-region team. You could also make a case for Jessie Fleming (Canada), though the US strength in that position is absurd. And while Christine Sinclair (Canada) probably wouldn’t make the team in a vacuum, it would be hard to argue against bringing her experience. And, well, Sinc deserves a chance to play on a really good international team for once.
But that’s about it. You might disagree here and there on the margins, but even if you push for a few more players, we’re still looking at a roster of 15 or 16 from the United States, with only a handful from the rest of the continent.
Still, this is really just a story of the ridiculous dominance of this US team, not an indictment of the players from the rest of the region. There has in fact been significant improvement in the region, and you could build a strong roster from their ranks that would be seriously competitive against virtually anyone in the world.
The best of Concacaf
As proof of concept, what follows is my effort to construct a roster of 23 players from Concacaf—excluding the United States and Canada. Some of these players get relatively few chances to show their ability on an international level, but can absolutely bring the heat when the opportunity is there. Imagine this all-star team getting consistent minutes together. It would be a sight to see.
Goalkeepers: Sydney Schneider (Jamaica), Yenith Bailey (Panama), Noelia Bermúdez (Costa Rica)
Defenders: Jocelyn Orejel (Mexico), Konya Plummer (Jamaica), Chantalle Swaby (Jamaica), Kethna Louis (Haiti), Jimena Lopez (Mexico), Deneisha Blackwood (Jamaica), Gabriela Guillén (Costa Rica)
Midfielders: Rebeca Bernal (Mexico), Stephany Mayor (Mexico), Shirley Cruz (Costa Rica), Raquel Rodriguez (Costa Rica), Sherly Jeudy (Haiti), Nérilia Mondésir (Haiti), Melchie Dumonay (Haiti)
Forwards: Bunny Shaw (Jamaica), Cheyna Matthews (Jamaica), Charlyn Corral (Mexico), Renae Cuéllar (Mexico), Melissa Herrera (Costa Rica), Phoenetia Browne (St. Kitts & Nevis)
And here’s a prospective starting XI:
Leading the line is Bunny Shaw, one of the best young forwards in the world. She’s joined by her Jamaica teammate Cheyna Matthews and Mexico’s Charlyn Corral (unlike the Mexico team at the Olympic qualifiers, we’ll actually be bringing Corral). That’s a potent strike force, featuring three players who have seen significant success in the best leagues in the world.
Behind them is a dynamic midfield trio. It’s anchored by Rebeca Bernal, erstwhile center back who showed incredible poise and ability when switched into a holding midfield role at this tournament. We’ll keep her there. In front of Bernal is Raquel Rodriguez who brings technique and incisive movement. Rodriguez recently joined the Portland Thorns and might just be primed for a big year. The third of the midfield trio is the absurdly talented Nérilia Mondésir. It may be a bit of a reach to start the 21 year old when you have options like Shirley Cruz and Stephany Mayor on the bench, but the sky is the limit with these young Haitian players, and I want to get them on the field sooner rather than later.
At center back, we’ll play Jocelyn Orejel and Konya Plummer. They’re both still quite young (23 and 22 respectively), and will probably make mistakes. But both have plenty of ability, and will also grow into the role well. Out left is Jimena Lopez, who showed us just what she’s capable of in qualifying. She’s got another year at Texas A&M, but is already more than ready for the big time. A potentially world-class left back. That means that Deneisha Blackwood is pushed out right, where she should still be more than up to the task. But if you want a natural right back, you certainly wouldn’t go wrong with Gabriela Guillén.
Finally, we’re blessed with plenty of riches in goal. I’ll stick with Sydney Schneider for now, since she has more experience (though it feels strange to say that about someone who is still only 20), but Yenith Bailey is going to give her a tough fight.
The bench of this team is also stacked. There’s some veteran experience in players like Cruz, Mayor, Guillén, and Cuéllar, along with plenty of young players who still have quite a bit of room to develop.
And just think about the incredible players I wasn’t able to find a spot for. Havana Solaun, Chinyelu Asher, and Kayla McCoy from Jamaica. Katherine Alvarado and Priscilla Chinchilla from Costa Rica. Jackie Ovalle, Katie Johnson, and Kiana Palacios from Mexico. Marta Cox from Panama. Mikerline Saint-Félix and Batcheba Louis from Haiti. Cloey Uddenberg from St. Kitts & Nevis. Rachel Pelaez from Cuba. Sheyla Flores from Nicaragua. The list goes on and on.
Would this team beat the US? Probably not. But then again, nobody really ever beats the US so that’s hardly a fair standard. But would they give everyone else in the world a serious game? Absolutely. And when you look at how young the roster is, the ceiling feels extremely high. Imagine this group playing together for the next five years in a supportive federation with plenty of training camps and matches. They’d be a genuine power in world soccer.
Sadly, in the real world, they are separated, playing independently for federations that provide them limited support, only occasionally gathering together for a couple weeks for these big qualifying tournaments.
But if you ever wonder whether Concacaf is producing quality players? The answer is an emphatic yes. The only question now is whether the investment is there to give them the platform they deserve.