The 2013 Gold Cup competition begins on Sunday, July 7 and runs through July 23.
The continental showpiece for North and Central America has gone through various reformations, but the current format has been in place since 1991 and the competition has occurred 11 times until now, roughly every other year. Prior to being called the Gold Cup, it was known as the CONCACAF Championship and was erected in 1963 with Costa Rica being crowned as the inaugural winners. The competition continued until 1971, hosted every two years. After 1971, the competition would serve as the qualification tool for the World Cup, and was hosted every four years, played in a league format.
The Gold Cup competition is not widely known around the world, and perhaps is the second least prestigious event when it comes to continental competitions; the quality of soccer, though, has improved. With the creation of the CONCACAF Champions League, more money is being funneled into the region and has created stronger domestic leagues throughout the region.
The United States has served as the host for the event since 1991, twice co-hosting with Mexico. Although this set up may give the United States an unfair advantage, CONCACAF and the participating nations benefit greatly economically due the average American’s disposable income and the large immigrant population hailing from neighboring countries. The competition has been dominated by Mexico and the United States, winning it six and four times respectively. A surprise victory by Canada over guest participants Colombia was a shock to the footballing community, but since then, parity has been restored.
Qualification for the Gold Cup is split up into three different divisions. The first is North America, consisting of Canada, Mexico and the United States, and all three automatically qualify for the competition. The United States and Mexico are the obvious powerhouses of the continent, but Canada’s automatic qualification has been questioned. The last time Canada made it to the final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualification, in which 6 teams compete for 3 automatic World Cup spots, was in 1998, finishing bottom of the group. Better teams in Central America and the Caribbean have to go through qualification rounds in order to compete at the Gold Cup, but perhaps Canada’s inclusion could be explained by a strong financial interest, drawing large crowds into their neighboring country.
The next division controls the Central American entrants, and this is where it gets a little complicated. The Central American teams are part of an organization called UNCAF, which is a subsection of CONCACAF and holds its own tournament, the Copa Centroamericano, every two years. Costa Rica has been that region’s strongest team, winning the competition 7 times, followed closely by Honduras. While the competition itself is staged to determine the UNCAF champions, it also plays a secondary role by allowing the top 5 teams to participate in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. It may be easier to play a regular league format to pick out the best 5 teams; the competition however is broken down into two groups, leading to the knockout stages and ultimately one winner.