The big story of the first weekend of Gold Cup action was probably the injury to Mexico’s Carlos Vela (pictured above from CONCACAF.com). If Vela is out long term, El Tri’s hopes to recapture the Gold Cup trophy could be seriously dented.
Nicaragua playing their first ever major tournament match gave a good account of themselves, against a Mexican team that continues to under whelm. El Tri was bailed out by an officiating error that led to a penalty kick (a common theme when Mexico plays in CONCACAF matches)during first half stoppage time. But beyond that, Mexico failed to create chances consistently enough in this match to please its fans.
The 2-0 victory for Mexico fell well below expectations and was reminiscent of the troubles Mexico had beating Belize, now a non FIFA member a year ago in World Cup qualifying. Nicaragua based on history and the club status of its players should be the weakest team in the twelve team Gold Cup field but they played Mexico very well for about 80 minutes.
Favored Guadeloupe, who features the most European based players in this tournament beat Panama 2-1 in the opener. The Caribbean French department who narrowly lost to Mexico in the semifinals of the last Gold Cup, will get a second chance at El Tri in Phoenix next Sunday. (match report from Robert Jonas, our Bay Area Correspondent is at the bottom of this article)
Former RSL bust Luis Tejada came on late for Panamanian manager Gary Stempel who now finds himself on the hot seat. Stempel’s troubled status owes itself more to the dysfunctional nature of the Panamanian federation than any other cause however.
The USA gave a dominant and resounding performance against Grenada to celebrate the fourth of July. So comprehensive and impressive was the thrashing that Bob Bradley probably has more questions about player selection because of the good play of several “B” teamers most notably Robbie Rogers and Stuart Holden. Kyle Beckerman also made a strong case for continued inclusion in the team.
MLS was well represented in the US team which saw Stuart Holden, Brad Evans and Logan Pause secure their first US cap.
Honduras saw off a Haitian team that featured four current USL players. The 1-0 score line in favor of the Central Americans puts Haiti’s potential passage to the knock out stages in serious jeopardy. Haiti now needs a result against Grenada to stay alive in the tournament. Leonel Saint-Preux of the Minnesota Thunder and Fabrice Noel of the Puerto Rico Islanders were particularly good for Haiti.
Roger Espinoza of Kansas City had a shaky game giving away the ball often and looking tired. He was eventually subbed off.
Longtime Montreal Impact player Ali Gerba who once featured for the Miami Fusion and recently signed with Toronto FC scored the long goal in match of heavyweights as Canada beat Jamaica. Seattle’s Tyrone Marshall played a key role for Jamaica having a very good game at the back. Marshall and Gerba were team mates in Miami during the 2001 MLS season.
Will Johnson of Real Salt Lake struggled in much of this match as did late game sub Omar Cummings from the Rapids. DC United’s Dejan Jakovic was good in this game. But most outstanding was Greg Sutton, waived by TFC and still unattached. Chris Pozniak who has been released by TFC, Vancouver and Dundee United within the last year is also on the Canadian squad.
New Seattle signing Leonardo Gonzalez was beaten regularly by El Salvador’s attack in this match. But the Salvadorians were wasteful leaving it late before prevailing 2-1 over Costa Rica. Gonzalo Segaras also struggled for the Ticos who were beaten much more comprehensively than the 2-1 score line would indicate.
One last piece of Gold Cup related news: Current Earthquake Bobby Convey has sounded off to the press about not being called up for the US team recently. I was at a press conference a year and a half ago when Bob Bradley in the most tactful and diplomatic way made it clear to those of us assembled that Convey wasn’t cutting it when he had been called into national team camp.
I fully support Bradley’s decision to not include Convey in any of his camps since that day. The player has had a bad attitude for years, including a sense of entitlement which was understandable when he broke into MLS at 16 but is now a sign of immaturity. Moreover, Convey has a bad habit of airing his dirty laundry in the press. He did this in DC, in England and now again with regards to the US team.
With the US program approaching the momentous qualifier at Azteca next month, bad apples like Convey need to be as far as possible from the players who are actually committed to the team concept of US Soccer.
CONCACAF Gold Cup Match #5
Panama vs. Guadeloupe
By Robert Jonas/Major League Soccer Talk
(OAKLAND, CA) A comfortable and sunny day greeted fans to The Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Sunday afternoon for the opening round of games in Group C in the 2009 Gold Cup. The first match of the doubleheader saw Central American Nations champions Panama taking on the surprise semifinalists from the 2007 Gold Cup, Guadeloupe. In a match that started slowly for both teams, the Caribbean Gwada Boys scored twice in the first half, then withstood a furious second half comeback from Panama to win 2-1.
With a starting XI featuring ten players who make their living in Europe, Guadeloupe has impressed in international matches over the last decade. Because they are a French Department, and not an independent nation, Guadeloupe is not eligible to compete for a place in the FIFA World Cup finals. If they could, expect them to be perennial participants in the later stages of WCQ.
Entering the match, Guadeloupe was without standout goalkeeper Franck Grandel for the remainder of the tournament. The 2007 Gold Cup top goalkeeper has flown to France where he is looking to rehabilitate a lingering shoulder injury. In his stead, GK Marius Fausta was given the starting job. If Guadeloupe is to repeat their surprise semifinal run from two years ago, they will need to ride the efforts of Fausta. In his first test with the national team, Fausta faced 21 shots from Panama, and was called to make numerous tough saves to preserve the victory. His coach, Roger Salnot was impressed. “He was great. It was the first game for him in the Gold Cup, and he showed he was able.” Man of the Match Fausta was all smiles after the match, exclaiming “It was perfect! We start the tournament with a win. It can only increase our confidence. We have to focus on our next game now, and win that one too.”
For a Panama side that was not expected to win this match, they comported themselves with tremendous effort, and for the second half looked like the more dangerous team. Coach Gary Stempel was not happy with the first half, and faulted his players for not being ready from the opening whistle. “I thought it took us a little time to settle into the game. To go down 2-0 in the first half obviously makes things difficult. We knew it was going to be a physical game. Teams from the Caribbean are physically strong.” But Stempel was encouraged by signs that his team might still make some noise in this tournament. “Our play in the second half was much, much better. It was a completely different team. We were very unlucky not to equalize with all the opportunities that we had.”
Guadeloupe tallied first half goals from Loic Loval in the 33rd minute and David Fleurival in the 43rd minute. While the first score was helped by some shoddy Panamanian defense, the second strike was a thing of beauty. From about 30 yards out, Fleurival unleashed a rocket into the upper right corner of the goal. “I had the space to go forward. I didn’t really think about the shot, I just took it and luckily for me and the team, it went in. It put us up 2-0, especially before halftime, in the end it turned out to be the important goal.” His coach was not surprised by the quality of the goal; he reminded everyone that Fleurival had an equally magnificent score in the 2007 Gold Cup against Canada.
Panama certainly controlled the flow of the game in the second half. A rebound off a save from an overhead effort from Blas Perez was netted by midfielder Nelson Barahona in the 68th minute. Panama continued to search for the equalizer, but were foiled by a valiant effort from the defense and goalkeeper Marius Fausta. Their efforts were aided by a Gwada Boys team that was starting to tire, but Panama ran out of time in their comeback attempt. Guadeloupe coach Roger Salnot had lamented that his team did not have a sufficient run of training ahead of the tournament, but remained confident that their fitness will improve. “I believe as the Gold Cup continues the players will get match fit. Those that need rest will be able to catch up and be on par as the tournament demands.” Guadeloupe team captain Stephane Auvray agreed with his coach, “I think we’re not ready physically yet. The last half an hour was really difficult for us. But we know we can do something interesting in this tournament. It was important to win this first game and get the three points.”
Panama next faces Mexico, and will probably need a result if they are to progress out of the group stages. The 2005 Gold Cup finalists seem ready for the challenge, but they must play with the intensity and effort they showed in the final 45 minutes of this match. Guadeloupe next faces Nicaragua, a team that is making their first appearance in the Gold Cup competition. Coach Salnot was asked if this team can repeat the stunning success from 2007, “It depends on the other teams and what kind of levels they are at. It all comes down to the players showing their talent, showing their qualities. The coaching staff and I believe the players have the talent.”
The next round of matches will take place in Houston this Thursday. If Guadeloupe can stay competitive for the full 90 minutes, expect them to gain the points that will propel them to the knockout stages of the 2009 Gold Cup.