This week we check in on CONCACAF news at the youth levels, particularly the upcoming CONCACAF U-17 and U-20 regionally championships early next year, which will send three teams to the FIFA age level. We look at how the Caribbean and Central American teams arrived to the regional finals, with three teams from each advancing to the Women's World Cups in Uruguay and France respectively.
CONCACAF U-17 Update
Nicaragua—a small but incredibly beautiful country with majestic volcanoes and rain forests bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the West, Costa Rica to the South, Honduras to the North and the Caribbean Sea to the East—is rated 94th by FIFA among women's full national teams (as of December 2017—moving up five places from September's ranking) but is hosting the eight team 2018 CONCACAF Women's Under-17 Championship next April 19-29. Nicaragua has also qualified directly for the eight team Women's Under-20 World Cup Qualifiers for CONCACAF, which will be held next month in Trinidad and Tobago (see more below). The U-17 regional tournament will decide the three regional representatives for the 2018 U-17 World Cup which will be held in Uruguay. CONCACAF General Secretary Philippe Moggio said: "CONCACAF is proud to bring the 2018 Under-17 Women's Championship to Nicaragua, as we continue to focus on supporting development of women's game throughout the Confederation. The women's game in Central America has fantastic potential for growth. We're confident that this championship will provide motivation for young women across the region as participation numbers in Nicaragua and throughout the region continue to climb."
The Estadio Nacional in the capital city of Managua will host all sixteen matches with the 8 teams drawn into two groups of four. Besides Nicaragua, Canada, Mexico and the United States advanced directly from North America while Haiti, Bermuda and Puerto Rico moved on from the Caribbean Football Union and Costa Rica from Central America (UNCAF) regionals. Costa Rica won the Central American regional tournament undefeated, besting neighbors and hosts Panama 1-0 with a late injury-time penalty kick. A tie against Panama would have been enough for the Ticas as they finished a superior goal differential (+10 to +6). Honduras and El Salvador also participated.
The United States has won the CONCACAF U-17 championship three times, while Canada and Mexico have each triumphed once. Nicaragua and Bermuda are making their debut at this tournament, while Puerto Rico fell at the group stage in 2008, Haiti finished fourth in 2016 under now Puerto Rico women's head coach Shek Borkowski and Costa Rica was a runner-up in 2008. In the previous edition of the CONCACAF Under-17 Women's Championship played in Grenada in 2016, the United States won its third straight championship at this level, with a 2-1 win over Mexico in the final while Canada clinched the third spot in Jordan's FIFA Finals with that 4-2 win over Haiti.
Tribal Football.com talked exclusively to Shek Brokowski, who led Haiti for 5 years before taking over Puerto Rico this past March. Despite a devastating hurricane season that impacted infrastructure severely throughout the island, Puerto Rico advanced to the last 8 of the U-17 World Cup CONCACAF tournament. They defeated Jamaica on penalties 7-6 after a 1-1 deadlock in the CFU third place match, in which only the winner advanced. His former team and host Haiti defeated surprising Bermuda 4-1 to clinch the CFU U-17 regional title. Borkowski has focused on the youth sides in Puerto Rico, as he did in Haiti, and within one year of his appointment has a team in a CONCACAF finals. Interestingly; Haiti has teams in both the U-17 and U-20 finals—in large part due to the developmental efforts started by Borkowski and his staff. Borkowski said: "I am humbled by the progress of Haiti and now Puerto Rico teams. Last year the Haiti U-15 team did very well, losing only 0-1 to USA (in the CONCACAF U-15 Championship). They have now added four very good players to their squad and I am convinced they should qualify for the U-17 World Cup. My Puerto Rico team is making big strides but this group still needs one more [World Cup two year] cycle and more experience. We will go to Nicaragua as big underdogs and are going there to learn." Borkowski sees the youth programs success driving ultimate improvement at the national team level. He has one national team player playing professionally in Europe—Karina Socarras with Malaga in Spain's second tier 1a Nacional women's league. Socarras' team is currently leading Group 4 by two points over Granada (34 to 32 points from an 11-1-1 record) and could be a serious contender for promotion next season. Founded in 1992, Atletico Malaga spent 15 years in the top Spanish league and were national champions in 1998 but have been a bit of a yo-yo team, having been promoted three times previously from the second tier. A prolific goal scorer, Socarras has been the Puerto Rican league leading goal scorer over the past two seasons with Bayamon FC, who won the Puerto Rican league last season; she also played at the Institution of the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico. In 2015 she scored 11 goals in CFU Olympic Qualifying and led her nation to the CONCACAF Regional Olympic Finals in Texas. Socarras (24) also trialed this year at Cucuta Deportivo in Colombia.
In the U-17 Caribbean Football Union qualifiers last August, Trinidad and Tobago won group A over Grenada on goal difference (+20 to +13) after the two sides played a 2-2 tie. Curacao defeated the U.S. Virgin Islands for their lone win (2-0).
In Group B, host Puerto Rico was undefeated, besting the Dominican Republic, Bahamas and Anguilla, with the latter two deadlocking their match 1-1.
Group C saw Bermuda go undefeated versus host St. Lucia (4 points), Antigua (4 points) and Aruba (0 points).
In a three team group D, Cuba advanced on 4 points over Barbados on goal difference (+8 to +4) with host Guyana going pointless.
In Group E, also a three team group, Jamaica advanced with wins over St Kitts and Nevis and host St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Note: The following sides did not participate in the U-17 CFU tournament: Bonaire, British Virgin Island, Cayman Islands, Dominica, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Montserrat. Bonaire (Dutch) and French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique (all three French) are European territories and would not qualify for the FIFA final as they are CFU and CONCACAF members but not full members of FIFA.
In the final CFU U-17 round in October, with the five preliminary group winners and hosts Haiti, Bermuda shocked many by winning Group F after tying Trinidad 2-2 and dismissing Jamaica 3-2. Jamaica defeated Trinidad and Tobago 3-1 which left T&T bottom of the group and was yet another ramification of the problems the Federation is struggling with after losing veteran Italian coach Carolina Morace and her coaching staff in a pay dispute earlier this year. Current T&T head coach Jamaal Shabazz said to the Federation's Media site ahead of the preliminary round "It's been a very interesting three weeks with these youngsters since I took over the preparations. From dealing with senior men's team at the beginning of the year to now working with the Under-17 Girls is a most humbling and rewarding lesson in my career as a coach. I am happy with the way that the players and staff responded to my entry into the program. We were slaughtered a year ago at CONCACAF U-15 as then they were a bunch of beginners entering the world of football for the first time. One year later we shall approach this CFU Qualifiers with courage and confidence," he added. Shabazz, a very experience coach and a former national team coach of Guyana on the men's side, has helped to stabilize the women's program but losing out on the final CONCACAF U-17 World Cup qualifiers is a set-back for T&T, which narrowly missed the 2015 World Cup in Canada. Hopefully he can guide the U-20's into at least the last four of the U-20's tournament in January and arrest the slide of the program.
In Group G, host side Haiti defeated Puerto Rico 3-0, who then bested Cuba 4-0 to capture second, as Haiti defeated Cuba also by a 3-0 score. Bermuda's LeiLanni Nesbeth led the tournament with 12 goals across all her team's games. Nesbeth has been playing this past season for Brighton and Hove Albion's Academy in England, while continuing her studies and also playing Cricket, The last round was not traditional semifinals between the top two, but rather the group winners played for the CFU title (Haiti 4 Bermuda1) and Puerto Rico advancing in the third place match between the two second place sides, on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.
CONCACAF U-20 WORLD CUP QUALIFING NEWS
The U.S. under-20 women's national team held a four team friendly tournament earlier this month, losing to Brazil, 2-0 in the tournament finale, which saw them finish in third place behind England and Brazil. England defeated Finland in the other game 6-0 to win the title with seven points. Brazil finished with 6 points and the U.S. with four points and Finland (0 points). The U.S. U-20s will meet after Christmas to prepare for the 2018 CONACAF Women's U-20 Championship Jan. 18-28 in Trinidad & Tobago. The eight finalists are Canada, Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Haiti and the host nation Trinidad and Tobago.
U.S. U-20 WNT Roster by Position (November Camp)
Goalkeepers (5): Jaelyn Cunningham (Illinois; Reynoldsburg, Ohio), Claudia Dickey (Charlotte Soccer Academy; Charlotte, NC), Shelby Hogan (Providence; Franklin, Mass.), Amanda McGlynn (Virginia Tech; Jacksonville, Fla.), Madison Newsom (UC Irvine; Elk Grove, Calif.)
Defenders (9): Nicole Albrecht (Minnesota; Cedarburg, Wisc.), Hannah Cardenos (Colorado University; Placentia, Calif.), Claire Constant (McLean SC; Alexandria, Va.), Chardonnay Curran (Oregon; Ewa Beach, Hawaii), Sydney Dawson (Internationals SC; Akron, Ohio), Naomi Girma (California Thorns FC; San Jose, Calif.), Sinclaire Miramontez (Nebraska; Lenexa, Kans.), Olivia Petit (Saint Louis; Akron, Ohio), Isabel Rodriguez (Ohio State; Canton, Mich.)
Midfielders (8): Samantha Coffey (Boston College; Sleepy Hollow, NY), Savannah DeMelo (University of Southern California; Bellflower, Calif.), Luca Deza (California; Belmont, Calif.), Kristina Fisher (Miami; Jupiter, Fla.), Jaelin Howell (Real Colorado; Windsor, Colo.), Taylor Kornieck (Colorado University; Henderson, Nev.), Brianna Pinto (NTH Tophat; Durham, NC), Natalie Winters (Iowa; Plymouth, Mich.)
Forwards (8): Jordan Brewster (Internationals SC; Canton, Mich.), Bri Folds (Auburn University; Lakeland, Fla.), Alexandria Griffin (Texas Tech; Southlake, Texas), Jordan Harr (Texas Tech; Sachse, Texas), Abigail Kim (California; Vashon, Wash.), Sophia Smith (Real Colorado; Windsor, Colo.), Kylie Sprecher (Marquette; Menomonee Falls, Wisc.), Courtney Strode (Växjö DFF/SWE; San Diego, Calif.)
Interestingly, Courtney Strode was the one U.S. player abroad with Vaxjo, who won promotion this season from Sweden's Elitettan in a romp finish as they had a 14 point advantage over second place Kalmar (69 to 55) with a 22-3-1 mark. Strode has been with the team for two years and came to Sweden after a tryout camp in her home town of San Diego attended by a number of Swedish coaches and scouts. She did not play collegiately in the U.S., a rare move by Americans which was begun by now national team player Lindsey Horan who moved to Paris St. Germain after high school. Vaxjo had primarily a Swedish team in 2017 led by veteran midfielder Malin Fors, who played for Jitex for four years in the top league. Their imports were Portland Thorns veteran Mana Shim (who played with the Thorns all 5 seasons in the NWSL), goalkeeper Ashley Thompson (31) who has played the last four seasons in Norway and once played at UCLA, Finnish goalkeeper Kreeta-Liise Yli-Santti and Serbia midfielder Jelena Cankovic—who has won a league title in Spain with Barcelona in 2013-14, at home with Spartak Subotica and in Hungary with Ferecvaros and now in Sweden. Vaxjo's twenty-year-old Swedish youth international Anna Anvegard (20) scored 33 goals this season in 25 games to lead the league. The only imports among the Swedish second tier scoring leaders were American Anna Smith of Vasteras (joint fifth with 12) and Cameron World Cup 2015 player Nchout Njoya Ajara, who played briefly with the Western New York Flash in NWSL in 2015 after time in Russia (joint eleventh with 9 goals).
In the CFU Round of four preliminary groups, Haiti hosted the mini-league and defeated Cuba, Dominica and Anguilla in Group A.
In Group B, Jamaica bested host and defeated second place Bermuda 2-1 in the last game as well as Curacao, while Saint Lucia withdrew.
In Group C, host Dominican Republic defeated second place Puerto Rico 1-0 in the decider, while Antigua and Barbuda (3 points) and Bonaire (0 points) finished last.
The three group winners and host Saint Kitts and Nevis played in the final round in late November with Jamaica finishing undefeated after a win over second place Haiti 1-0—but both teams advanced—as Dominican Republic (3 points) and St. Kitts and Nevis (0 points) finished out of the reckoning.
In the Central American Zone (UNCAF), six teams were split into two groups of three. In Group A, Costa Rica with 6 points and Nicaragua (host) on 3 points both advanced over Belize, with Costa Rica defeating the hosts on a late injury time goal 1-0. In Group B, El Salvador with 6 points and Honduras (3 points) moved on to the semifinals over Panama, with El Salvador defeating Honduras 4-1.
In the semifinals Costa Rica blasted Honduras 2-1 while Nicaragua defeated El Salvador 2-1 in overtime to win their first berth in the reginal finals since 2008
Teams that have qualified for next summer's U-20 Women's World Cup in France include from UEFA: England, Germany, Netherlands and Spain as well as host France, New Zealand from Oceania and China PR, Japan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from Asia. CONCACAF will send three teams next month while CONMEBOL in South America and CAF from Africa will each have their final tournaments in 2018 to send two teams each.
Though traditionally a test for the Women's World Cup the next season, France will use smaller venues in Brittany that will not host WWC games in 2019, namely: Vannes (9,500), Concarneau (6,500), Saint-Malo (2,500) and Dinan-Lehon (2,000), which leaves one puzzled about the strategy in using these venues, rather than 2019 World Cup sites.
Canada's Jess Fleming wins the U-20 Player of the Year title for the third consecutive year.
Canada's young international midfielder—also a star of UCLA's College Cup Finalists earlier this month—won her country's U-20 Player of the Year title in 2017 for the third year in a row. The winner the previous two years was Kadeshia Buchanan who now plays at Olympique Lyon. Fleming made 11 appearances for Canada's full national team in 2017 with one goal and one assist. She is a top-three finalist for M.A.C. Hermann Trophy honors (with the winner to be announced in January 2018). Her national team head coach John Herdman said: "Jessie has been building her identity this year as one of the leading international midfielders. She has been doing that on the field with a goal against Costa Rica and a standout performance against USA where she really did set the standard for any midfielder when playing against arguably the best team in the world."
Fleming finished first in voting ahead of three other U.S. based collegians: runners up Deanne Rose (Alliston, ON / Scarborough GS United & University of Florida), Sarah Stratigakis (Woodbridge, ON / Aurora United FC and University of Michigan), and Gabrielle Carle (Lévis, QC / CS Lévis-Est and Florida State University).
Note: Buchanan won her second Canadian Player of the Year award; her second in three seasons. The defender won a league championship, French Cup and UEFA Women's Champions League title in 2016-17 with Lyon after finishing college last season at the University of West Virginia. Already in 2017-18, Buchanan has made eight appearances in the French league and four more in UEFA Women's Champions League. Buchanan and her teammates are already through to the Quarter-finals, matched against FC Barcelona in March 2018, a side that has boosted their squad with top domestic and imported talent over the past few years.
At the international level, Buchanan made nine appearances for Canada, seven of which were wins including the come-from-behind 3:2 victory over Norway at the end of November. She also helped Canada finish second at the Algarve Women's Cup, defeat Sweden away in April, and beat Costa Rica twice at home in Winnipeg and Toronto.
This year, Kadeisha Buchanan finished first in voting ahead of runner up Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns) and top-five finishers Ashley Lawrence (PSG), Janine Beckie (Houston Dash), and Jessie Fleming (UCLA).
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey