Concacaf is planning to launch a continental women’s club Champions League in the next few years, a source with knowledge of the situation told The Inquirer.
It’s a robust endorsement of the growth of women’s soccer in the region, and it’s a robust commitment by the regional governing body for the sport in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Many countries in the confederation don’t have professional women’s leagues at all, never mind anything like the NWSL.
The promise of what could be stems first from recent growth at the national team level. In addition to the United States and Canada’s perennial dominance, Costa Rica made its World Cup debut in 2015, and Jamaica did so in 2019. The 2023 tournament could have more Concacaf teams qualify, as the field will expand from 24 teams to 32.
After that World Cup, Concacaf will launch a women’s Nations League that will run between World Cup and Olympic tournaments. It should compel nations that fund teams only for the global events’ qualifiers to spend on their squads all the time.
With the Nations League plan in place, Concacaf is turning its focus to the club game. It hopes to launch a continental club tournament in 2023 or 2024.
Those hopes come with the knowledge that the NWSL stands far ahead of the rest of the continent, and indeed much of the world. The tournament will have to be structured so that American clubs don’t excessively crush the field.
But American club teams are no longer the only ones on the continent that matter. Mexico’s women’s league has seen dramatic growth in recent years. The nation’s high-profile clubs such as Tigres (near Monterrey), Chivas (Guadalajara) and Club América (Mexico City) have put real money into their women’s teams, and their men’s teams’ huge fan bases have given their support.
That increased investment has translated to an increase in talent, and NWSL teams are paying attention. The Houston Dash were first to do so, playing a friendly at Tigres (that Tigres won) in October 2019. But there hasn’t yet been regular cross-border competition. (And to the dismay of some NWSL fans, there haven’t yet been regular cross-border signings.)
Nor would it be enough if only the U.S. and Mexico have consequential women’s leagues. Concacaf needs, and creditably wants, far more than that. The confederation has a close eye on Costa Rica, which used its World Cup debut in 2015 to give its women’s league a boost.
In 2019, the league scored a coup when young star Gloriana Villalobos came home from Florida State a year after winning a national championship. She has since played for Saprissa and Herediano, two of the nation’s biggest clubs.
Concacaf has an eye on Jamaica. too. The country’s women’s national team won global acclaim at its World Cup debut in 2019, and those players have gone on to succeed in France, Italy and the NWSL.
The Jamaican federation, however, has drawn an equal measure of scorn for its notoriously inconsistent funding of women’s soccer. Concacaf hopes launching a women’s Champions League will be a carrot to encourage the Jamaican federation to increase investment. (It also knows the Nations League is a stick to force full-time funding of the Reggae Girlz.)
There’s also a dearth of club women’s soccer in Canada, the home of two of Concacaf’s top executives: president Victor Montagliani and head of women’s football Karina LeBlanc. The latter is a former star goalkeeper for Canada’s national team whose club career included playing for the Philadelphia Independence in 2010.
Concacaf plans to inform FIFA of its plans as soon as this week. The global body’s governing council has a meeting Friday, and the agenda includes setting the global women’s soccer calendar from 2024 on. A source said Concacaf will put its proposal in the context of the increasing global pressure to launch a women’s Club World Cup.
A women’s Club World Cup is a holy grail for much of the women’s soccer community. It’s easy to see why: Club women’s soccer in Europe is exploding in popularity, led by marquee brand names in England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Of course fans want to see those teams face the best of the NWSL, Australia’s W-League, and so on.
As of now, the only “global” club women’s tournaments are run by other entities. The biggest one is the Women’s International Champions Cup, a four-team event run by Relevent Sports, a private marketing firm. It had successful editions in 2018 and 2019, drawing praise from FIFA. Relevent plans to expand the field to eight teams after the coronavirus pandemic ends.
Last month, South American confederation CONMEBOL joined the fray by agreeing to a deal with European governing body UEFA to have their continents’ women’s club champions face each other each year. The event will resurrect the old Intercontinental Cup name that was long used for the same contest in the men’s game.
The men’s Intercontinental Cup ended after 2004 thanks to FIFA’s launching an annual Club World Cup.