What Concacaf competition changes mean for CanMNT’s 2024 Copa América qualifying hopes

On Tuesday, Concacaf announced the formats for upcoming men’s competitions during the pre-2026 World Cup cycle, including, crucially, how countries from the region can qualify for the 2024 Copa América tournament.

That path goes through the 2023-24 Nations League, which starts in the September 2023 international window. For the Canadian men’s national team, that means some absolutely critical matches are upcoming toward the end of this calendar year.

The confederation announced that League A for the 2023-24 edition, which includes Canada, has been expanded to 16 nations. This means there will now be no relegation for the 2022-23 edition. The top four teams in the region based on Concacaf rankings as of March 2023 will automatically advance to a new quarter-final round. Canada currently sits fourth-ranked in the region, behind Costa Rica, the United States and Mexico — 63 points ahead of Panama.

The remaining 12 will be split into two groups, where they will play in a “Swiss-style” league system where they each play two home matches, and two away matches. The top two teams from each group will advance to the quarter-finals, where they join the top four ranked nations, to be played in November of 2023.

The quarter-finals will feature an aggregate home-and-away format, where the winners will advance to the semifinal round and be granted a berth in the 2024 Copa América. The teams that lose the quarter-finals will face off in Copa América play-in matches in March 2024. These will be single elimination and played at a neutral venue. The 2023-24 Nations League draw will take place on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

The opportunity to play in the Copa América, which will feature World Cup winners Argentina as well as world number one Brazil, would be critical preparation for the 2026 World Cup as the national team gets the chance to test itself against top opposition. The 2024 Copa América tournament is set to take place in June 2024 in the United States.

Canada will play its final League A group stage matches of the 2022-23 competition on March 25, away against Curaçao, before hosting Honduras on March 28 at BMO Field. Canada currently sits second in the group, three points behind group leader Honduras, but with a game in hand and a better goal difference. The group winner will advance to the knockout round, to be played in June.

Concacaf also announced that World Cup qualifying will kick off in March of 2024. Canada, along with the United States and Mexico, however, will not be involved, as it was officially confirmed that they had been granted an automatic berth in the 2026 tournament as one of its hosts. Missing these intense qualifying matches only makes qualifying for Copa América that much more important.