The Quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup are set and here are the story lines.
- Panama has lost in close matches each of the last two Gold Cups to the United States. In 2005 it was in the PK shootout in the final, and in 2007 it was 2-1 on a controversial PK call against the Panamanians. Englishman Gary Stempel was on the chopping block as the national team manager until tonight’s huge 4-0 win over Nicaragua. Could Stempel go from sack race leader in CONCACAF to national hero with a win over the USA? It’s unlikely, but Panama has the right combination of athleticism and technical skill to give the US some trouble in this round. However, if the US fields a team similar to the side we saw against Haiti, Panama will have to be considered the favorite. I do not believe however we will see Jay Heaps or Michael Parkhurst again in a non friendly for the US.
- The United States dropped points in a Gold Cup group match for only the second time in history against Haiti on Saturday. But as I have argued here on MLS Talk, given the lineup both teams fielded the result was actually a good one for the US. In fact, it is the Haitians who should feel as if they dropped points and lost an opportunity for a famous victory that could have brought immense joy to an impoverished and football made nation. But Haiti’s play should have brought joy to the faces of neutrals everywhere. I was the color commentator for tonight’s USL Live broadcast of Miami FC-Vancouver, and it was with great pride we discussed the success of the Haitian National Team in this tournament during the webcast, as well as the local (South Florida) connections of the Haitian team.
- I am not sure the injury situation regarding Clarence Goodson, but the US needs him back badly in this tournament. A Goodson/Conrad pairing inside should be good enough for the US to win this tournament, but if Bob Bradley is forced to rely on any other combination of central defenders in this tournament, Canada and Mexico both have a chance to upset the USA.
- I am hopeful that Haiti can give the unsporting and classless Mexican players and fans (Guille Ochoa is an exception: he has shown a class and dignity which will serve Mexico well if he continues to be a poster boy for the FMF) a real run for their money Sunday, in Dallas. Haiti, as I have said before has the talent to play with CONCACAF’s best. But the officials in the Gold Cup have for years given Mexico the benefit of the doubt on close calls and have permitted if not encouraged El Tri’s chippy and unsporting play on the pitch by not properly managing matches. So Haiti may in fact face longer odds than simply competing tactically.
- Honduras “B” team has been wholly unimpressive in this tournament, and I fully expect Canada, who has played the best football this past week to defeat them. Julian DeGuzman is for the second straight Gold Cup the class of the tournament.
- I’ll have Canada National Team manager Stephan Hart’s very poignant commentary about artificial turf on the next MLS Talk Podcast.
- Guadeloupe versus Costa Rica could go either way. The Caribbean islanders have a core of players that compete in Europe which normally would be a great advantage except in July, in the heart of the closed season. Thus fitness levels have to be considered and maybe that gives a slight edge to Costa Rica.
- Jamaica’s failure to advance to the next round of the Gold Cup is good news for several MLS teams and the USL’s Puerto Rico Islanders (the Islanders still have two missing Haitian players, however due to Haiti’s advancement in the tournament). But the failure of the Reggae Boyz is not going over well back at home. Jamaica had been undefeated in their last nine competitive matches before this tournament and appeared to be the class of the Caribbean. But with Guadeloupe and Haiti both advancing questions are being asked at home of Theodore Whitmore, a playing hero but young manager about what happened. Stay tuned.
- Alfredo Pacheco of the El Salvador National Team and Red Bulls told me outside the team bus on Friday night (where CONCACAF had setup the mix zone) that his focus is on qualifying for the World Cup and that not advancing in the Gold Cup did not bother him. “South Africa has been our entire focus as team and for me as a player,” Pacheco said. Unfortunetly, for CONCACAF this is what happens if you force a tournament to be played right in the middle of qualifying. I personally cannot argue with Pacheco’s sentiments.
- Grenada and Nicaragua both competed gamely in their first ever Gold Cups but both failed to score a goal. Would Trinidad or Guatemala have done as poorly? Unlikely, but if you lose in qualifying you don’t have much to gripe about.
- Another note: The much ballyhooed World Football Challenge is scheduled to begin this week. I for one will not be covering it in any fashion (other than perhaps critical). We have a Continental Championship, the Gold Cup ongoing and the decision of this phony event to use match promoters who are not linked with MLS should leave us all concerned. The three participating European clubs will cannibalize the audience for the Gold Cup and MLS matches, and because SUM is not involved MLS will not get a piece of the action. Moreover, ESPN showing the matches ensures it’ll be well covered. All of this adds up to an event whose failure would be a good thing for all of us. MLS and the USMNT do not need to be competing with Chelsea on its own shores during our season and our continental championship. Other than the Gooch angle with Milan and seeing if Club America is as bad this year as last this “tournament” should hold no interest for the true American soccer fan. I’m not bashing European football in saying this but we have real competitive league and international matches going on at the same time as what is a glorified set of friendlies designed to extort money out of fans who should be spending that cash supporting MLS, USL or the USSF instead. (change of plans- we will now be covering this event from the fan perspective and asking the critical question: what would posses Americans who should be supporting their national team and club game to spend exorbedent amounts of money watching teams with no Americans (except AC Milan) play in meaningless games on American Soil.)