CONCACAF octet aim for world stage

Hosts USA head into 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship as rampaging favourites to hoist the trophy and qualify for their seventh straight FIFA Women’s World Cup™. The eight-team tournament will be new American coach Jill Ellis’ first major competition at the helm of a team that has sat atop the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking for the last five years.

“We’re starting to understand the philosophy of our coach,” USA defender and veteran skipper Christie Rampone told FIFA.com about Ellis, born in England, who took over five months ago preaching a gospel of increased attack. “Every game we play together brings a new lesson; new things to learn. We need to be patient and we need to not take this qualifying process for granted.”

Rampone’s words sound like a warning for her American team-mates, who, despite their vaunted status, struggled in World Cup qualifying last time out. They lost to Mexico in the semi-final round of the 2010 CONCACAF Championship and had to endure a tough intercontinental play-off with Italy in order to reach Germany 2011. Canada, who won the 2010 CONCACAF title, will not take part this time around, reaching next year’s showpiece automatically as hosts.

Despite focusing intently on the task at hand, Rampone and the Americans have a long-term goal in mind too. “We want to get the World Cup trophy back,” said the captain, who is approaching her 300th appearance, and is a surviving member of the US team who last won the Women’s World Cup way back in 1999.

The current American side boasts some of the top talent in the women’s game, including hulking striker Abby Wambach, 2012 World Player of the Year, and her strike partner Alex Morgan, who draws comparisons to the great Mia Hamm with her silky skills and quick feet. The Stars and Stripes open their account against Trinidad and Tobago, a team that arrived Stateside without proper funding, forcing their coach Randy Waldrum to take to Twitter to plead for assistance.

The Americans’ place among the top-three would seem a foregone conclusion, despite some issues in the camp including the controversial inclusion of goalkeeper Hope Solo. But with three automatic spots up for grabs, the up-and-comers will be fancying their chances. The Women’s World Cup has expanded from 16 to 24 teams, making the road to the finals slightly easier for the competitors from North, Central America and the Caribbean. Mexico, USA’s neighbours to the south, will expect the best, hoping a recent 8-0 loss to the States won’t dent their confidence too badly.

Mismatches in Group A

The Americans square off against Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala in Group A of the competition. None of the teams they are up against in the pool stages have ever reached a Women’s World Cup, while 11 of Ellis’ squad have played at previous showpiece events in the past, including Germany 2011 where they finished runners-up behind Japan.

Costa Rica and Mexico will be the favourites in Group B. Mexico reached the last Women’s World Cup, while Costa Rica are still looking for their first trip to the women’s global showpiece. However, Las Ticas have improved at junior level, hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup earlier this year, and are determined to maintain the momentum of their men’s team, who reached the quarter-finals at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. “Many of us have been playing together for years, and we know each other’s game really well which is a major plus,” USA based Raquel Rodriguez, a star for Costa Rica, told FIFA.com. “With the chemistry we have we can overcome obstacles.”

Caribbean hopefuls Martinique and Jamaica round out the field in Group B. The tournament runs from 15 to 26 October in the four US cities of Chicago, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington DC. The two finalists qualify for Canada 2015, along with the third-place finisher, while the fourth-place team will play-off against a South American side for, potentially, one final spot from CONCACAF.