The 2011 Gold Cup is an interesting tournament, one almost designed specifically for the most hard core soccer fan. The winner advances to the Confederations Cup, which is a very scaled down version of the World Cup, and you have to really be into soccer to buy tickets for Panama versus Guadeloupe (Tuesday in Detroit). But there are some incredible plot lines for this tournament, and if you don’t think the pressure is on Bob Bradley’s team to hoist the trophy in LA at the end of the month, you aren’t paying attention to soccer at all.
However, the U.S.’s success is not the only thing riding on this tournament. Mexico is the other CONCACAF side that believes it can rise to the elite of international soccer, while Canada, Honduras, and Costa Rica are engaging building projects aimed at breaking up the CONCACAF duopoly that currently exists. Below is your guide to the teams in the Gold Cup as well as the games not to miss. Teams are listed in four categories: favorites, dark horse contenders (those teams that could surprise and win the Gold Cup), dangerous teams (those that can grab an unexpected game or two), and happy to be here. Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Check out the entire schedule here and TV schedule here.
Guide to the Gold Cup Teams
The United States [C]: The team we all know so well has a few injury concerns. Landon Donovan should be over his illness by Tuesday, but anytime #10 is out the U.S. should be worried. Keep in mind, two years ago the U.S. brought a third string team to this tournament and made the finals, so anything less than the finals will be a disappointing tournament.
Mexico (A): El Tri has not lost this year internationally, and the emergence this year of “Chicharito” for Manchester United should have U.S. fans concerned about facing this team. Two possible weaknesses for Mexico to note: this is head coach José Manuel de la Torre’s first Gold Cup as manager, and Monterrey keeper/Mexico starter Jonathan Orozco has been a starter only twice, both times in friendlies.
Dark horse contenders
Canada [C]: American fans may be quick to dismiss our northern neighbors, but that would be a dangerous decision. The names known to MLS fans are Julian de Guzman, Will Johnson and Dwayne de Rosario, but the team has veteran European club players like MF Atiba Hutchinson (Eindhoven), D Kevin McKenna (Germany’s Koln), and F Simeon Jackson (England’s Norwich City).
Costa Rica (A): Remember, Costa Rica was a winner-take-all game away from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Alvaro Saborio is the “name” player for U.S. fans but their most important player is Bryan Ruiz, who was a major contributor for FC Twente this season (and scored both goals in the 2-2 draw with the U.S. in the most recent World Cup qualifying).
Jamaica (B): Don’t laugh, but the Reggae Boyz are a legitimately good team. Eight players come from MLS, the most important being Dane Richards, but this team will badly miss an injured Omar Cummings. Besides Tim Howard, they may have the best keeper in CONCACAF in Donovan Ricketts.
Guadeloupe [C]: The only CONCACAF country to win a World Cup, Guadeloupe is a territory of France, so CONCACAF tournaments are the only prize the island itself can play for (FIFA considers them part of France). Stephane Auvray will lead this team of Ligue 1 and smaller European club veterans. Guadeloupe made a run to the 2007 Gold Cup semifinals, so they know how to win important matches in this tournament.
Guatemala (B): This team’s chances begin and end with the Fire’s Marco Poppa and the Union’s Carlos Ruiz. They barely qualified for this tournament, but with Poppa and Ruiz have the ability to grab an upset or two in the tournament.
Honduras (B): No Andy Najar leaves this team with a hole in midfield. The star of the team is Celtic left back Emilio Izaguirre, who was named Scottish Premier League player of the year this season. Eleven players on this roster started at least once in the 2010 World Cup, but with the team on its third manager in the past year and undergoing a youth movement, this will be a wildly unpredictable team.
Happy To Be Here
Cuba (A): Their only recent win in a friendly was against Nicaragua, who is currently ranked below Curacao. Their players all play in Cuba, which is a poor league. The only intrigue in their matches is if anyone will defect afterwards.
El Salvador (A): This is the team to cheer for if you are an ex-pat – their two most famous players are MLS players who came up in the US system in Alturo Alvarez and Steve Purdy. The Portland defender only got his passport about a month ago, so los Cuscatlecos are vulnerable in the back.
Grenada (B): No Shalrie Joseph, no chance. They were outscored 10-0 in the group stage of the 2009 tournament, so they will be looking for a goal this time as a team goal.
Panama [C]: Panama is ahead of Scotland in the FIFA rankings, so they have that going for them. Their squad has players from clubs all over the world, including León (Blas Perez), Lech Poznan (Luis Henríquez), and River Plate (Harold Cummings).
Matches to Watch
US v. Canada (June 7, Detroit): This is a good early test for the Yanks. If they can shake off the Spain loss and bring their A game, they should beat the Canucks. However, anything less and Canada can steal a point or three from this match.
Mexico v. Costa Rica (June 12, Chicago): Mexico should win group A, but this will be their stiffest test before the one-and-done rounds.
Honduras v. Jamaica (June 13, Red Bull Arena): While I think Jamaica is the favorite in this group, this match may be for the first spot in the group. Honduras can grab a statement win and a face off in the quarterfinals against Group B #2 [Canada/the U.S./Guadeloupe] at RFK Stadium.
Gold Cup Championship (Los Angeles, June 25): If this is the United States and Mexico, expect an epic contest. This would be their first meeting since 2009 and is certainly anticipated.