2024 W Gold Cup: Primer for Saturday's prelims

On Saturday six nations will rumble for the final three spots in the 2024 Gold Cup group stage. Yes, by the end of the weekend, we will finally have 12 teams in our three pots of four.

2024 W Gold Cup: Primer for Saturday's prelims

Here we bloody go then. After 24 years without a women's edition of the Concacaf Gold Cup, the tournament is back.

Before the Group Stage gets underway on Tuesday 20th of February, there is the small matter of the final qualification round, known as the prelims.

On Saturday six nations will rumble for the final three spots in the group stage. Yes, by the end of the weekend, we will finally have 12 teams in our three pots of four.

These three prelim matches are all knockout and will go straight to penalties if the score is level after 90 minutes.

Here is the key info, and a quick breakdown of what to know about the nations.

Kick-offs, where to watch (USA - ET):

🇬🇾 Guyana v Dominican Republic 🇩🇴 | 4:oo p.m.
Paramount+ (English), ESPN+ (Spanish)

🇭🇹 Haiti v Puerto Rico 🇵🇷 | 7:00 p.m.
Golazo Network/Paramount+ (English), ESPN+ (Spanish)

🇸🇻 El Salvador v Guatemala 🇬🇹 | 10:00 p.m.
CBS Golazo Network/Paramount+ (English), ESPN Deports/ESPN+ (Spanish)

Where to watch (world):

🇲🇽: ESPN
🇨🇦: OneSoccer (English, French) / Concacaf GO
Central America, South America & Caribbean: ESPN
Scandinavia: ViaPlay
🇳🇱: ESPN
🇵🇹: Canal 11
🇮🇳: FanCode
Rest of World: Concacaf GO / Youtube

🇬🇾 Guyana

It has been quite a journey for the Lady Jags, who opened up qualifying with a shock 2-1 defeat to Antigua and Barbuda last September. However, Omar Khan's team didn't let disappointment in the city of Piggotts get to them.

Guyana would go on to win all five of their remaining qualifying matches without picking the ball out of their net ever again, a total of 489 minutes (and counting) without conceding. Due to issues getting a suitable pitch to play on, the Caribbean nation has not played a home match since April 2022.

Only once before (2010) has Guyana successfully made it to a Concacaf tournament.

A new wave of young players have broken through onto the Guyana senior team having impressed at youth levels, and with more senior players playing abroad struggling for availability.

Fullback Anya Tribune was the mainstay of the Lady Jag's impressive defence during qualifying. The versatile 18-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, started all six matches to help Guyana make it to the prelims, playing 89 minutes or more on three of those occasions.

🇩🇴 Dominican Republic

Las Quisqueyanas squeezed into the prelims with a 2-0 win over Bermuda, at home in Santa Domingo, on the final day of the qualifying stage. That too clinched a run of five wins in a row after a loss on matchday one.

The D.R. are no underdog. With more friendlies and camps in 2023 than Guyana, there's an argument to be made they head into Saturday's clash with the more settled starting XI. I There has been good continuity in this group that started just 15 different players in qualifying.

Colombian head coach Alex Parra, who took the reins in March 2023, has been a charismatic leader. A good follow on Twitter, he is quick to wax lyrical about some of his favourite coaches, post motivatioanl quotes and unpack their logic; whilst also having a penchant to drip threads about how much he cares for this national team. Plenty of passion.

Captain Lucia Leon will be a familiar for some of the casual footy fans out there. A child of Dominicans born in Madrid, Spain, the 26-year-old winger rose through the ranks at Tottenham Hotspur's academy in England in the late 2010s.

After helping guide the North London club to promotion to the Women's Super League in 2019, the journeywoman made more history by scoring the club's first-ever goal against fierce local rivals Arsenal in 2020.

Now with Watford, in the Championship, Leon is used mostly as a touchline-hugging wing-back or full back at club level. But for her country, she's more a much more direct threat on goal whose main focus is to attack, press high and win turnovers.

🇭🇹 Haiti

An immensely talented Haiti team might just be wondering how they ended up in the prelims?

Les Grenadiers technically missed out on automatic qualification on goal difference, after Costa Rica put 30 goals past St. Kitts and Nevis over two matches. Haiti had managed 24.

All that only occurred after Alexa Herrera scored a frantic late late winning goal in the 98th-minute for Costa Rica, which put fate back into Las Ticas' hands. Had the match ended 1-1, then the Caribbean nation would already be in the Group Stage.

Ahead of this tournament, the conversation surrounding Haiti is the absence of superstar Melchie Dumornay. The Lyon midfielder suffered an ankle injury at the end of 2023 and is yet to get her fitness up to snuff.

New-ish head coach Frederic Goncalves, who joined in September 2023, will be hoping all the questions regarding how the team will cope without Dumornay were asked in the build-up to the Puerto Rico affair.

The Frenchman appeared non-plussed in Friday's press conference. He was understandably quick to talk up the 23 player he has brought with him to the United States.

"Well, as far as I'm concerned, I have always been here for this team with or without Melchie," Goncalves stated. "She brings a lot to our game, it's true. And when she's not here we are missing something. But we have good players. They are not Melchie, but they know how to play and they understand the game. We have good players."

🇵🇷 Puerto Rico

Despite having to go toe-to-toe with the most daunting team in the prelims, Puerto Rico might offer the potential to play spoiler throughout the 2024 W Gold Cup.

El Huracán Azul are happy to concede possession and grind out results. In fact, not once in qualifying did they have over 49% possession in a single match. Expect direct vertical balls and a sturdy 4-5-1 that risks look to minimize risk. Especially when it comes to leaving space on the counter or playing too high of a line.

Nathaniel Gonzalez's team will likely invite Haiti on to them and see what chances arise from mistakes or an overcommitted attack. As we saw in Mexico's nervy 2-1 win over Puerto Rico at the Azteca – that required a spectacular moment from Maria Sanchez – they know how to frustrate more talented opposition and make a game of it.

Marshaling the space in front of the Puerto Rico defence will be defensive midfielder Nickolette Driesse. The 29-year-old, who is also an assistant coach at NYU in her down time, will need to scan for danger. Always making sure extra runners from midfield are tracked closely. In 2023, she won 61.5% of her defensive duels and rarely left the pitch for her country. She is the team's general.

🇸🇻 El Salvador

Red hot La Selecta. Few teams in Concacaf have had a 24 months quite like El Salvador.

Eric Acuna's side were exquisite in qualifying, winning a perfect six from six and scoring 24, while conceding just two, along the way. This came after a bronze medal at the Central and Caribbean Games, that the nation hosted in Santa Tecla. A narrow 3-2 defeat to gold medalists Mexico left La Selecta with plenty to be proud of.

After years of incremental development and intention behind the scenes, it is beginning to feel like all the hard work is paying off. The question arises: How long can La Selecta be flat-track bullies against the region's undercard fighters? When will the next leap forward arrive?

Right back Juana Plata and left-side forward Danielle Fuentes should offer El Salvador plenty of attacking threat and width. Goals shouldn't be the issue with this squad. It's just about seizing the moment.

With every step forward that El Salvador takes there has still be disappointment. They are yet to qualify for a Concacaf tournament. As performances improve expectation is building in the country.

"The spirit is great. The team is aware of the importance of this match," Acuna said. "This is going to be one of the most important matches as well as the upcoming matches that we will have. We know what is at stake. The players are willing to win the game, we are confident."

🇬🇹 Guatemala

In Guyana v Dominican Republic, you have two Concacaf League B teams facing off. In Haiti v Puerto Rico, you have a tilt between two Concacaf League A nations.

Now, El Salvador v Guatemala is different. It's League B v League A. In that respect, it's hard to accurately judge who is coming into this match better prepared.

History is on the side of La Azul y Blanco, with a record of 7W 0D 2L all-time against La Selecta. But in some ways, it feels like these two Central American neighbours are moving in opposite directions at the moment. With all seven of Guatemala's victories coming before 2016.

Guatemala struggled to assert its dominance in the two matches against a Jamiaca team missing the entire squad from the 2023 World Cup. Chances were few and far between. Movement was sluggish and there was little impetus in the attack.

The country's top scorer in 2023, with three goals, Ana Lucia Martinez will need more help. The 33-year-old won't be able to do it alone. Still, expect plenty of slick close control, sharp movements, and incisive decision-making when cutting in from the left-hand side.

Her trademark cut-backs have made her a bright spark for Rayadas in LigaMX Femenil this season.