CONCACAF Gold Cup vs Nations League

CONCACAF Gold Cup vs Nations League – What’s The Difference?

The CONCACAF Gold Cup and CONCACAF Nations League are 2 of the more popular football competitions for national teams that are from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Since they are both competitions that are hosted by CONCACAF, how are they different from each other?

Here’s what you need to know:

The difference between Gold Cup and Nations League

The Gold Cup involves the top 16 teams in CONCACAF, and it helps to determine the best team in CONCACAF. Meanwhile, the CONCACAF Nations League involves all 41 teams in CONCACAF, and it serves as the qualifier for the Gold Cup.

Founded in 2018, the Nations League is aiming to develop football in the ‘weaker’ countries that are found in the CONCACAF region. 

Here is a further comparison between these 2 competitions:

Number of teams involved

16 nations are involved in the Gold Cup. Within these 16 teams, the Gold Cup may invite guest nations that are not members of CONCACAF.

One example is Qatar, which participated in the 2021 Gold Cup.

Meanwhile, the CONCACAF Nations League consists of 41 teams, where they are all member countries of CONCACAF.

The CONCACAF association consists of countries from:

  • Northern America
  • Central America
  • The Caribbean

Some of the top countries in this region include:

  • Mexico 
  • USA
  • Canada
  • Costa Rica

Frequency and duration of competition

Both the Gold Cup and Nations League are held every 2 years. 

Since its inauguration in 1991, the CONCACAF Gold Cup has been regularly hosted or co-hosted by the United States.

All of the matches are played in less than a month.

The next CONCACAF Nations League tournament will begin in June 2022, and will end in March 2023. As such, it has a duration of approximately 10 months.

Format of competition

For the Gold Cup, the 16 teams are divided into 4 groups, each containing 4 teams.

The top 2 teams from each group will play in the quarter-finals.

For the CONCACAF Nations League, all entitled teams are allocated into leagues based on their current FIFA Ranking:

League A4 groups of 3 teams each
League B4 groups of 4 teams each
League C4 groups with either 3 or 4 teams,
depending on the promotion-relegation system

The Promotion-Relegation system for the Nations League works as follows:

League A1st place in Play-Offs (semi-finals)3rd place to League B
League B1st place to League A3rd place to League B
League C1st place to League BNA

This means that League A will contain the teams that performed the best.

The CONCACAF Nations League takes the place of international friendlies which usually happen throughout the football season.

With this league structure, it gives the ‘weaker’ teams in CONCACAF something to fight for: a chance to qualify for the Gold Cup.

Presence of Third Place Match

In the CONCACAF Nations League, the two teams that were knocked out in the semi-finals will play in the third-place play-offs.

Meanwhile, the third-place match has not been held in the Gold Cup ever since the 2017 tournament.

Number of matches played

The USA won both the 2020/2021 CONCACAF Nations League and the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. For both of these competitions, they played a total of 6 matches.

Assuming your team is reaching the final in Gold Cup, a number of 3 matches are played in group stages and the other 3 are in the knockout stage (quarter-finals, semi-finals and final).

With the same scenario, for the Nations League, a number of 4 matches are played in the group stages and the other 2 are the semi-final and the final.

CONCACAF Gold CupCONCACAF Nations League
Group stages3 matches4 matches
Knockout stages3 matches (single-legged quarter-final,
semi-final and final)
2 matches (single-legged
semi-final and final)

Squad size

Both the Gold Cup and the Nations League have the same rules for the squad size of each team. The maximum number of players in a team is 23

Previously, the Gold Cup allowed rosters of up to 35 players. However, it was reduced to 23 in 2019.

Qualification for Competition

All 41 CONCACAF member countries automatically qualify for the Nations League. These countries are allocated to the different leagues (A, B and C) based on the results of the previous tournament.

These 41 nations will fight for a place in the 16 qualifying spots of the Gold Cup:

LeagueWho Qualifies?Number
of Teams
League ATop 2 teams8
League BTop of each group4
Gold Cup QualifiersTop 4 teams4

The Gold Cup Qualifiers involve:

  • 4 third-placed teams of League A
  • 4 second-placed teams of League B
  • 4 group winners of League C

Rewards for winning competition

If you win both the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Nations League, it will not guarantee you a spot in the FIFA World Cup Group Stages. Instead, the placements in the World Cup are determined by the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers.

The Gold Cup winner will be crowned as the Continental Champion of the CONCACAF region and will get a prize of around $1 million dollars

The most successful team in the tournament’s history is Mexico, with 8 titles.

Meanwhile, the winners of the CONCACAF Nations League will not ‘get much prestige‘ as ultimately, the trophy does not really matter.

Instead, the Nations League will be a great way for the ‘lower-tier’ teams to compete with one another, especially for those in Leagues B and C.

Instead of playing pointless friendlies, there is an incentive for these teams to do well in the Nations League to qualify for the Gold Cup.


Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

CONCACAF Gold CupCONCACAF Nations League
of Countries
of Competition
Every 2 yearsEvery 2 years
of Competition
1 month10 months
Format of
Group Stages +
Knockout Round (QF)
Group Stages +
Knockout Round (SF)
Third Place Match?NoYes
Number of Matches
(for the winner)
Squad Size2323
QualificationCONCACAF Nations League +
Gold Cup Qualifiers
All41 CONCACAF Member
countries can participate
Rewards for Winning
the Competition
Best Country in CONCACAFSymbolic Trophy


Both the CONCACAF Nations League and the CONCACAF Gold Cup are competitions for the national teams in North America.

While the Gold Cup winner gets the title of the best team in CONCACAF, the Nations League has the goal to promote and develop football in the CONCACAF region.

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