CARY, North Carolina.- The 2018 concacaf Women's Championship kicks off Thursday night with eight teams vying for three spots and maybe a fourth in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Panama and Trinidad & Tobago kick off Group A in the first game of a doubleheader in Cary, North Carolina before the United States and Mexico meet in the second match.
On Friday night, Costa Rica faces Cuba in Group B before Canada takes on Jamaica in Edinburg, Texas.
The top two finishers in each group will qualify for the semifinals in Frisco, Texas on October 14. The two semifinal winners will qualify for France. The losing sides will battle in the third-place match on October 17 with the winner qualifying and the loser playing Argentina, the South American fourth-place team, in a home-and-home playoff for the final spot.
Three-time world champion United States, the top-ranked women's team in the world and defending world champs, is one of the favorites to reach France and the FIFA Women's World Cup for the eighth consecutive time. National Women's Soccer League MVP Lindsey Horan is one of the rising stars of the squad. Two-time FIFA World player of the year Carli Lloyd is not expected to start but gives the Americans much bench depth.
Canada, which hosted the 2015 WWC, will is trying to qualify for its seventh consecutive tournament as the legendary Christine Sinclair (173 international goals), who second to only retired U.S. star Abby Wambach (183), will have one last hurrah at global glory.
Mexico, under the direction of a new coach, Roberto Medina, for the first time since 1995, hopes to reach its fourth world championship tournament and third in a row. Forward Charlyn Corral and midfielder Monica Ocampo are expected to pace the attack.
Led by Shirley Cruz and Raquel Rodriguez, Costa Rica hopes to duplicate what it achieved four years ago when it became the first Central American country to book a spot in the 2015 Women's World Cup.
After getting so close to qualifying during the 2014 CWC, Trinidad & Tobago will attempt again to become the first Caribbean team to reach the WWC.
Panama will try to duplicate its men's success as the latter qualified for its World Cup at Russia 2018, while Jamaica hopes to surpass its fourth-place finish in 2006.
Cuba, which competed at the 2012 concacaf Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship, is making its debut in the final round.