Gold Cup’s Group C will be the most watched group. It includes the host nation, the United States, as well as Costa Rica, Cuba and Belize.
There will be some familiar faces pitted against each other and could be considered the strongest group in the competition with Costa Rica and the United States, both potential World Cup contestants and Gold Cup finalists. The games will be held in Portland, Sandy (Utah) and East Hartford. The United States will be counting on its home support during this competition and in a country where soccer’s stock is rising, expect stadiums to fill up.
Like many other nations, the US men’s national team will be focusing on the upcoming World Cup qualifiers and have sent a weakened team to the Gold Cup, which does not include Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore. The US debated sending the full squad. However Klinsmann has been known to rotate his squads and wanted to include fringe players as well as give some of the more experienced players another chance.
Since losing to Honduras in the qualifiers back in February, the USMNT have won four and tied one, which has resulted in much praise for the under fire German manager. Although the US will be fielding a weakened team, many of the players have either been regular national team players at one point in their career, or have excelled at their club team in recent months.
Since Mexico have also decided to leave their stars at home, pressure will be mounting on the US to win the Gold Cup, a feat they have not achieved since 2007. The US players will also be eager to put on a good display in order to be picked for the US team competing in the World Cup qualifiers later on this year and hopefully make the final roster for Brazil 2014. There will be some great players on display, such as Stuart Holden, DaMarcus Beasley, and Ogucho Onyewu.
Players to Watch: It would be cliché to choose Landon Donovan, but he will certainly have to redeem himself for his diva-like behavior in the past six months. Love him or hate him, Donovan is a talented player and is en-route to become his country’s most capped player and the country’s top scorer. Although the coveted and disputed “best US-player” mantle has unequivocally been handed to Clint Dempsey in recent years, at 31, Donovan will play his last World Cup next year, and is desperate to make the final squad list.
After some scintillating displays by Jozy Altidore for the USMNT in the past few months, he has become the undisputed number one striker for the team. His pending move to Sunderland and goal scoring exploits in the Dutch League will make him the national team’s striker for the World Cup, a position Herculez Gomez would like to overtake. He hasn’t featured much for the US, but he offers them a different option up front. Plus his strength, as well as his hold up play, will work well with Donovan’s maneuverability.
In recent years, their title as Central America’s best team has been challenged by Honduras, but Costa Rica is currently leading in the last stage of the World Cup qualifiers and has one foot in Brazil. Unfortunately, like many of the other teams at the Gold Cup they have rested most of their stars and brought in a mix of talent. Fans were looking forward to watching Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell and Bryan Oviedo light up the Gold Cup, but they will have to wait for the next World Cup qualifier to see that. Nevertheless Costa Rica is not sending a bunch of amateurs to the tournament and even their fringe players could mount a challenge. Costa Rica has qualified for the World Cup on three occasions and has won the CONCACAF championship three times, but never have they won the modern Gold Cup version. Costa Rica has also benefitted from a strong league that has produced great players over the years as well as a great team in Deportivo Saprissa, which in turn has served as a conveyor belt of talent to the national team.
Players to Watch: Alvaro Saborio is a regular on the Costa Rican national team and is an absolute goal machine wherever he goes. US audiences know him for his exploits at Real Salt Lake. With him at the helm, Costa Rica will be scoring and he can be a strong contender for the Gold Cup golden boot award.
Yeltsin Tejada has already made a name for himself in Costa Rica at Saprissa as a midfield maestro and creative playmaker, but has not been able to break through to the national team. At 21, he has a chance to show the Costa Rican national coach why he should be chosen alongside Ruiz as Costa Rica’s creative spark.
This team has become a regular at the Gold Cup, but they have consistently served as the group’s whipping boy, often finishing last in the group without registering any points. The team has been plagued by defectors escaping Cuba’s dying economy and seeking lucrative contracts abroad. At the ast Gold Cup tournament, Yosniel Mesa defected from the team’s camp and in 2005 Maykel Galindo, formerly of FC Dallas, defected. While Cuba is considered one of the stronger teams in the Caribbean, they are still miles away from a World Cup spot. Cuba, however, did win the 2012 Caribbean Cup, beating Trinidad & Tobago 1-0 in the final.
Players to Watch: Not much is known about the Cuban players; quite frankly not much is known about the Cuban league either which makes identifying their stars a tough task. Ariel Martinez was a stand-out player during the Caribbean Cup and helped Cuba win the competition, contributing two goals. Cuba often arrives to the Gold Cup with a weakened team, fearing that their stars will end up defecting in order to build a better life abroad.
This is the first time Belize will be competing at the Gold Cup and for a team that has only been in existence since 1995, luck had a role to play with that qualification. Without Deon McCaulay’s winner in stoppage time against Nicaragua during the UNCAF tournament, the Jaguars would not be at this tournament and their ignominy in the soccer world would be continuing. Soccer is Belize’s most popular sport, but that has yet to translate into success. Recent years saw a merger of two competing leagues to create the Belize Premier League, which kicked off in 2011 and came in the aftermath of being suspended by FIFA for governmental intervention.
Players to Watch: As already mentioned, Deon McCaulay scored a vital goal in the road to the Gold Cup, adding to his goal scoring record for his country. The young player has caught the eye of some MLS sides and will want to extend his stay in the United States.
The fight for the top spot will be disputed between the United States and Costa Rica. The two previously met in March when Clint Dempsey scored a winner in a match dubbed snowmageddon. Costa Rica will want revenge, not only for a loss but for what they felt were unfair playing conditions.
Based on the squad selection, the United States not only has more experience in its squad but momentum is on their side. The mouthwatering game between political rivals, the United States and Cuba, has been played in previous Gold Cup competitions and Cuba has rarely stood a chance. Cuba and Belize have never faced each other and their first competitive match will most likely determine third in this group. The US is most likely to top this group, with Costa Rica close behind and Belize winning coming in third.