Article made by Caleb Wilkins & Aidan McHenry
The group stage of the 2023/24 edition of the CONCACAF Central American Cup concluded at the end of August 2023. This tournament essentially serves as a regional qualifier for the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Ultimately 6 Central American clubs will qualify for the continental knock-out phase, where they will face teams from the other regions of CONCACAF. We opted to publish our reports after the group stage because the tournament won’t fully conclude until the end of October and by now we have been able to watch multiple matches of all the players we find interesting. As is often the case in Central American Football, the participating clubs were reluctant to start younger players ahead of more established players. Sometimes it felt like managers were actively trolling us with their squad selections. But we still managed to see enough of six players who we thought were worth bringing to your attention.
Anfronit Tatum is an 18-year-old centre-back who plays for Real España. Tatum is a very raw talent but has some positive traits that could see him molded into a good player. In terms of style, Tatum is an old-school no-nonsense centre-back. He wins his duels and he gets it launched. Tatum is 6’1, which is maybe a little on the small side for this type of guy. He’s good in the air but not as dominant as you would hope. On the ground he is a little stronger, usually coming off best in any ground duel, and a solid 1v1 defender. Off-the-ball he is a bit of a mixed bag. There were some moments where he was evaded by runners but there were other times when his positioning was key in preventing a dangerous chance against.
But Tatum’s real shortcomings are on the ball. He looks quite clumsy with the ball. He struggles to play mid-range passes between the lines and his attempts to carry the ball out of the back usually end poorly. He is reasonably good at playing long-range passes, aided by the fact that he can hit the ball really hard. But that’s his only real on-the-ball skill. Tatum has a lot of shortcomings but he’s an 18-year-old left-footed centre-back doing an adequate job at a strong senior level. So it’s not inconceivable that he could develop into something more. I would Say MLS Next Pro is the most likely next step for him, but he probably needs more time to develop in Honduras first.
Daniel Carter is a 19-year-old striker who plays for Real España. Carter stood out for his physical characteristics and how dangerous he was in the box. Carter is 6’0 with a slim, but strong, build. He is extremely good in the air. He was a constant danger to score with his head. He is strong, has a good vertical, and generates a tremendous amount of power with his headed shots. He also demonstrated strong off-the-ball movement which helped round out his game as a dangerous penalty box presence. Even when he didn’t win a header he had a real knack for picking up second balls in the box. Carter has decent pace but I wouldn’t say it stands out as a major strength. One physical element Carter struggles with a bit is balance. He always seems to be on the verge of falling over. This limits his ability to hold the ball up. Sometimes his wobbliness works to his advantage and helps him deceive defenders on the dribble but overall it’s a pretty major weakness.
Carter is not very ball-secure at all, with limited passing ability. Ultimately I think his weaknesses will probably hold him back from the highest level of the game. But he’s scoring goals and generating a lot of shots against top Central American clubs before his 20th birthday. That’s not something that you see very often. If I were running an MLS team I would be very keen to get him on my MLS Next Pro team. He could also be a good investment for European, maybe even South American, clubs of a similar satire. But he would be a bit of a project and might need to spend some time on loan at a lower level before being a first-team contributor.
Medina is a left footed high work rate box-to-box midfielder from Nicaragua. His confidence and technique on the dribble allow him to be a reliable ball carrying progressor. His skillful dribbling makes him tough to handle in 1v1s and in tight spaces. In addition, his short area explosiveness followed by pace add another dimension to his progressive carrying reliability. He also displayed great vision to find passes through using his dominant foot, both chipped and on the ground, then continuing his run to support rather than standing still. Medina mainly stayed central in his positioning both on support runs and defensively. On those runs, he crashes the box as either a long shot threat or to dive in for a header in support of crosses.
He was able to turn this into multiple shots of quality with both feet and a headed goal against Olimpia. Defensively, Medina is quick to clear danger long in his own half under pressure. He is swift in his movements to go cover the wing and is not afraid to engage in duels. He does well to time stand tackles to poke out the ball in those duels and will use some physicality on occasion. Medina’s current ability is above that of a Central American league. He could do well in the USL now and has the potential to hop the pond in a league outside of the top five eventually.
Suárez is a short and slim built Costa Rican attacking midfielder who has impressed yet again in this tournament. He is establishing himself as a premier Central American talent and it is easy to see why. The lefty has 2 goals in 3 appearances during the group stage and is only getting started. These two goals came on moments where he crashed into the box once at the near post sliding and the other a rebound shot first time with his dominant foot. On ball, he is a dominant presence around the box using his quick technical dribbling to beat opponents to shoot long or create using his excellent scanning. Suárez is a confident progressive carrier dribbling through the phases. There he combines his low center of gravity and technique on ball to glide past defenders with skill and pace.
When distributing, he scans well to get creative with his left, finding teammates in dangerous spots for chances as he enters the final third. In addition, Suárez does not shy away from using his weaker right, making him a huge threat when spreading play in midfield. Utilizing both feet to switch play or progress on multiple ranges both in the air and on the ground displays a diverse passing skillset for an already creative footballing mind. On top of his attacking exploits, his ability to intercept/cut out passing lines in the press are perfect for the typical 10. Suárez is quite well-rounded an attacking midfielder and will not be in Costa Rica for much longer. Expect him to make a move to the MLS or to a smaller European club fairly soon.
Cruz is a lean Costa Rican center forward that got some of his first tastes of senior football in the group stage. He is one of the younger players to appear in this tournament and did not look out of place one bit. His main drawback is his lack of strength but that will come with more maturation into senior game. Cruz most often receives short flashing toward the passer with his back to goal. From there, he uses his dribbling control and improving press resistance to retain possession or turn his marker, a skill he must improve upon, while scanning for runners to hit in stride heading toward with his dominant left foot. Despite his lanky build, his technique on the dribble and overall ball control is admirable and allows him to drop between lines to link up play. Off ball, the other movement Cruz frequently enacted was short runs through into the box to support passes through as the attack reached the final third. He timed these runs quite well and put himself into dangerous positions at the near post to create chances.
The service to him needs to be better so he can showcase his finishing ability. When supporting crosses, his aerial ability displayed room for improvement as his height is a plus, just more aggression is needed. In his few finishing chances during the group stage, Cruz did his best when cutting inside after receiving through in transition and shooting with power on his left foot. If he can improve upon his placement of shots, more goals will come rather than forcing saves and shooting wide of the crossbar. Cruz has some physical maturing to do before he can become a consistent senior contributor, but his tactical intelligence and technique early on are positive signs for what’s to come. He is a creative talent for MLS Next clubs to monitor as he sees more minutes.
Faerron may have gotten a red card suspension during the group stage, but prior to that his defensive abilities tested well. The 188 cm right footed center back has a muscular build and a physical defensive style, which may have contributed to his straight red card. This physicality combined with instinctual anticipation makes him a notable threat in ground duels, providing dominant wins in standing challenges and interceptions along the way, too. In addition to his defensive ability in 1v1s, Faerron marks attentively, especially heading into the box. This mixes with his physicality to make him a dominant aerial duel winner.
When attacking the opposition box on free kicks, this aerial presence is key and led to a right footed goal for his club to draw level. Faerron’s physical style and awareness make him a stud of a defender for Herediano. On top of his defensive strengths, his ability to push possession in the buildup is consistent yet unspectacular and has shown some moments of brilliance as a dribbler. There is not enough there as a progressor to say he will be a star ball-playing defender, but he is more than good enough in that aspect. The base level in the buildup and the defending of Faerron is something that could catch the eye of clubs in North or South America. He’s only just turned 23, so there is still time for him to grow and display his talent at a higher level.