CONCACAF's World Cup Rise: A Story of Domestic Growth
When people talk about world soccer powers and international superstars, it is fair to assume that not a single country nor player from CONCACAF would be mentioned.
The region's most prestigious international tournament, the Gold Cup, is a two-horse race between Mexico and the United States - one of the two countries has won every tournament since it was founded in 1991, with the singular exception of Canada in 2000. In fact, the tournament has never been hosted outside of either Mexico or the United States, and there has been at least one game held on American soil in every single Gold Cup tournament.
The 2014 World Cup may finally be the catalyst needed to change the international community's perception of football in the region. Honduras is the only CONCACAF side to taste defeat thus far, while the aforementioned Mexico and United States have pulled off massive results. El Tri held host nation and World Cup favorites Brazil to a scoreless draw and the Americans pulled off a massive win against formidable foes Ghana. However, there may be no team in the entire tournament that has impressed the way the minnows of Costa Rica have.
Costa Rica were drawn into the only group that consisted of three former World Cup champions in Italy, England, and Uruguay. They were given little chance of ever making it out of the difficult group, and maybe for good reason. Italy, England, and Uruguay all arrived in Brazil within the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings, while Costa Rica sat all the way back in 28th. Jorge Luis Pinto's side pulled off nothing short of a minor miracle by winning their first two group games defeating Uruguay and Italy and eliminating England before even playing them.
Anyone who has watched CONCACAF over the past couple of years will not be entirely shocked.
This is a very good Costa Rica side, more than capable of upsetting the balance bot only in the region but in the world. They finished second in 'The Hex' stage of World Cup qualifying and beat the region's top countries, including all three other World Cup qualifiers in Mexico, the United States, and Honduras.
While Costa Rica's advancement to the Round of 16 may be an indicator of the emergence of the Central American country itself, it is also a sign of the growth of the game across the region at both the national and club level. The vast majority of the Costa Rican team plays their domestic football in CONCACAF, with 20 players from the squad's original 30 man provisional roster playing their club football in the region. That list includes five Major League Soccer players and 14 players currently plying their trade in Costa Rica itself.
Costa Rica is full of domestic talent, but so are the other teams representing CONCACAF in the World Cup. The United States have 11 members on their squad that play in North America on a daily basis, with no less than 10 playing in Major League Soccer. Mexico and Honduras are represented similarly, with El Tri having brought 16 players from Liga MX to the World Cup and Honduras bringing 15 players who play in CONCACAF as well.
The World Cup is a tournament where some countries will shine and others will perish, but in 2014 it's looking like an entire region is rising on an international level.
Honduras may have lost their opening two matches but they are the only team out of CONCACAF to lose so far in the tournament. Mexico, Costa Rica, and the United States have exceeded most expectations early on, and there are little signs of slowing down. The fact that so many players representing CONCACAF in the World Cup also play their club football in the region as well may be the early showings of a paradigm shift in world football.
It is far too early, and absolutely absurd, to discuss the notion of CONCACAF rising be a dominant force in international football, but it isn't too quick to point to the rise of leagues like MLS and Liga MX as a major contributor to the success of the region's national sides.
With a massively improved television deal in place for Major League Soccer next year and the continued success of the region's national teams, the future looks more than just bright for CONCACAF.