While the Gold Cup is starting a month later than usual, the meaning for this confederation remains the same: who is the big dog between Mexico and the United States.
Maybe the other nations in this region will feel aggrieved by that statement, but the results are clear. Since the tournament’s inception, Canada (in the year 2000) is the only other nation to have hoisted the Cup. It has been an entertaining biennial undercard for the ultimate grudge-match in World Cup qualifying.
It’s also an odd tournament in the regard of being the only major region in FIFA that doesn’t rotate the competition’s host nation. It’s quite convenient that the United States is money-flush as well as the type of melting pot that allows all nations to represent very well at their matches. This is evidenced by Mexico having the home-crowd feeling when they face the Americans in this tournament.
In this edition of the Gold Cup, Canada has been granted a partial home status, as Group B will play one match date at BMO Field in Toronto.
Let’s dive into the Groups to see what’s in store once the tournament kicks off on July 7th in suburban Dallas.
SEE MORE — Check out the Gold Cup TV schedule for viewers in US.
July 7th (Frisco, TX); July 10 (Foxborough, MA); July 13 (Kansas City, KS)
Qualified: Automatic/Host Nation
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
The Red, White, and Blue come into the tournament on quite a high. Defeats of the Dutch and Germans on European soil earlier this month have provided some hope that Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t lost the plot completely.
The US is still trying to forge its style and identity in the post-Landon Donovan era. It was a fast four years between the “Go Go USA” goal in South Africa and being snubbed for Brazil. And just like that, America’s most beloved (and perhaps best ever) player was a part of history.
The team never really got past that in Brazil. Yes, they advanced to the knockouts. Yes, they gave Belgium all they could handle. But a country expecting to see evolution out of Klinsmann’s tenure has seen the German legend to resort to pragmatism against the best teams in the world. It just so happens that those tactics often work in the blood-and-cleats nature of CONCACAF, as well.
In 2013’s Gold Cup, Donovan scored 5 goals in carrying the US to being Champions. This time the onus will be on Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley to fill the leadership void left by the long time talisman.
There is also the question of offensive output, which was somewhat lacking in Brazil. There will be eyes on Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson to see which of these two forwards can step up and be reliable in international matches.
Player To Watch: Michael Bradley
The Toronto FC midfielder is in the midst of his prime, and is the type of two-way player that can take over a tournament like this. Klinsmann has viewed Bradley as an advanced midfielder at times, something that hasn’t always suit his style of play. But he will need to find his form in this relatively difficult group.
Qualified: 3rd Place, Copa Centroamericana
Head Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez
The Canal Men were a bit of a surprise in getting past Mexico in the 2013 Semifinals and ultimately provided a stern test for the Americans. While they weren’t able to secure the ultimate victory, they displayed a bravado that carried them deep into World Cup qualifying, only to have a couple of costly goals against cost them a trip to Brazil.
A physical team with good speed down the wings, it’s tough to see Panama enjoying the same suc cess this time. Still they should earn a spot in the quarterfinals if they can play either the US or Honduras tough.
Player to Watch: Blas Perez
The big target forward is still the most dangerous man for Panama, despite the fact the F.C. Dallas striker is well into his 30’s now. His physical presence and clinical finishing causes opposing center backs to take notice, opening up room for Luis Tejada or Gabriel Torres to attack. Either way, you can’t fall asleep on the Panamanians because they can make you pay quickly.
Qualified: 5th Place Playoff, defeated French Guiana
Head Coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
Yet another tough team in Group A, Honduras comes into this Gold Cup on the heels of a disappointing World Cup where they failed to grab even a point in a tough Group E. They will certainly be looking to reassert themselves as a CONCACAF power.
This time, they will have to do it without Roger Espinoza, who withdrew himself from the squad due to mental and physical fatigue. They’re typically a hard-working, physically demanding, defensive team. Without Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly to pick up the goals, the big question is who will pick up the slack.
Player to watch: Anthony Lozano
The Olimpia 22-year old has been the only consistent source of goals for Los Catrachos in 2015. The attacking midfield for Honduras is strong and should kick in their share of goals. But for a team needing a player to step up as their top forward heading to qualification, Lozano is a prime choice. Perhaps a solid Gold Cup could help him get attention from European clubs or from MLS.
Qualified: 3rd place, 2014 Caribbean Cup
Head Coach: Marc Collat
The Haitians are an underdog in this tournament for sure, and their chances for even a single result against three of the tougher teams in CONCACAF are unlikely. American viewers will recognize a few of the names (former Kansas City defender Mechack Jerome and former Colorado goalkeeper Steward Ceus for two).
Maybe the best news for Haiti is that they don’t face the US right away. If they can make some waves against Panama, perhaps they can sneak their way through. Good luck with that.
Player to watch: Kervens Belfort
Belfort is a 23-year old striker in the Cypriot First Division, playing for Ethnikos Achna F.C. He has scored 10 goals for his country, and tied for the most goals in the Caribbean Cup. It will likely be an uphill tourney for the entire team, and while this guy may be their best chance to shine, it’s a long shot for sure.
July 8 (Carson, CA); July 11 (Houston, TX); July 14 (Toronto, ON)
Head Coach: Benito Flores
The Canucks are an interesting enigma in these tournaments. They always seem to have a few solid MLS players, and a couple of guys in the English leagues, but not enough leadership or quality to ever challenge.
But each year that passes brings newer faces, and every incarnation provides hope that a core will develop and bring the team success. Performing well in the Gold Cup would be the first step towards the true goal, to qualify for the World Cup down the road.
A new group of young talent in Tesho Akindele, Cyle Larin, Jonathan Osorio, and Samuel Piette provide some excitement heading into July. They’ve won four straight, giving some momentum, but Costa Rica and Jamaica will be tough nuts to crack.
Player To Watch: Tousaint Ricketts
It’s a lot to ask for Larin and Akindele to being carrying this team already, so Ricketts will be relied upon to be the primary forward for Canada. It’s difficult to see Canada escape the group stages regardless, but if Ricketts can help the team take 3 points against El Salvador, maybe they can survive into the knockouts.
Qualified: Champion, 2014 Copa Centroamericana
Head Coach: Paulo Wanchope
The Ticos were on quite a ride the last couple of years. They enjoyed a strong World Cup campaign where they took the Dutch all the way to penalties. But things haven’t been so peachy for Costa Rica since, though their winless-in-six streak has seen a consistent string of top 20 teams.
They often go with a 5-man defensive system, which puts the pressure on Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell to create the opportunities. Alvaro Saborio has been the long-time forward for the team, but at 33 years of age they will be looking for David Ramirez to share the role up top.
Player to Watch: Joel Campbell
Costa Rica (and the club that owns his rights, Arsenal) continue to wait for the 23 year old Campbell to finally come good on his ability. He’s a dynamic winger who has plenty of talent, but eventually needs to have that amount to something for either club or country. Perhaps this tournament gives him his chance to put it together.
Qualified: Champion, 2014 Caribbean Cup
Head Coach: Winfried Schafer
The first of the two teams that participated in Copa America, Jamaica is hoping to forget their trip to Chile. Sure, they were competitive in holding powerhouses Argentina and Uruguay to 1-0 victories, but they failed to score a goal or register a point. They will certainly be looking to get off on the right foot.
But even that will be tough starting out against World Cup quarterfinalist Costa Rica. Much of the team remains from their South American sojourn. They have some great talent, and a couple of weaker CONCACAF teams in Canada and El Salvador could be the remedy for their attacking woes if they don’t get too frustrated against the Ticos.
Player To Watch: Rodolph Austin
For a team licking its wounds from a rough Copa America, they will need strong leadership and defensive fortitude. Austin is a tough defender, the type of guy who is indispensable against a team like Costa Rica. Stability will be key to get Jamaica on track, and Austin provides that backbone for the Reggae Boyz.
Qualified: 4th Place, 2014 Copa Centroamericana
Head Coach: Albert Roca
A team that has advanced to the quarterfinals in the previous two Gold Cup tournaments, El Salvador is a squad comprised mostly of players from their domestic league. They defeated neighbor Honduras 1-0 in the 2014 Copa Centroamericana, and are a formidable opponent even if they lack big name players.
Their ability to pass from this group will probably hinge on their match with Canada. They are a team that can keep it close against the second-tier CONCACAF teams like Jamaica and Costa Rica, which could help them find a result against the bigger boys and gain entry to the knockouts.
Player to Watch: Andres Flores
The Salvadorian captain has been relegated to a bench role at the New York Cosmos this year, after several years at Isidro Metapan. An attacking midfielder who can line up centrally or on the right, he needs to be the outlet for El Salvador to spring counterattacks and set up Rafael Burgos.
July 9 (Chicago, IL); July 12 (Glendale, AZ); July 15 (Charlotte, NC)
Head Coach: Miguel Herrera
Here we get to the second of the favorites for this tournament, and El Tri still hasn’t fully recovered from their ordeal in advancing to Brazil 2014. Surprisingly for many, Miguel Herrera remained on as the head coach of the team, even after they were minutes from missing out on 4th place in the Hex.
Between their two summer tournaments, this is the one that matters most. Herrera saved most of his heavyweights for the Gold Cup, choosing a “B” team for the Copa America. Winning the Gold Cup would give El Tri new life in getting to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, necessitating a playoff with the United States.
In Copa America, the Mexicans performed admirably to draw host Chile (who have advanced to the Final), but weren’t able to win either of their other matches against Bolivia or Ecuador. Bowing out of Copa America wasn’t the end of the world, allowing Herrera to focus squarely on the real task.
The Mexico-US rivalry has sided squarely on the American side of the border, which started with a big result at Estadio Azteca back in 2012. That’s something El Tri wants desperately to change. The 2011 Gold Cup left everyone wondering if Mexico was the top of the CONCACAF heap, but Jurgen Klinsmann quickly led his team to the upper hand in this matchup.
Group C should be no problem for Mexico, as they clearly got the easiest draw. Guatemala can be a pest, but it’s tough to see them causing many headaches.
Player to Watch: Giovani Dos Santos
Mexico has several high profile players, but most interesting to watch this go-around is Dos Santos, who is rumored to be in negotiations with Major League Soccer. This is a great opportunity to show off for the league, helping to raise his value – perhaps even to gather interest from Liga MX or other European Clubs.
A second striker, dos Santos can be a primary playmaker for Mexico, if his head is on straight. He needs to foster his connection with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, help Mexico dominate Group C (as they should), and then let the momentum carry them into an expected grudge match-up against the USA in the Final.
Qualified: 2nd place, 2014 Copa Centroamericana
Head Coach: Ivan Franco Sopegno
The Chapines are a scrappy bunch that always seems to embody the attitude of their captain, MLS veteran and long-time crap-stirrer Carlos Ruiz. As with many of the third-tier CONCACAF teams, most of their players ply their trade domestically, with the most notable exception being Seattle Sounders’ midfielder Marco Pappa.
One would think that they’d be a shoe-in for second place in the group, with the outside chance that Mexico falters and leaves them an opening.
Player to Watch: Carlos Ruiz
The one-time MLS MVP who was traded for the right to take Landon Donovan is still making his way in the football world, and he’ll almost certainly be starting up top wearing the armband. He’s a gritty forward who finds a way to nick a big goal even when the rest of his team isn’t quite good enough to compete in the big game. Can El Pescadito still do it, even at 35 years of age? We’ll see.
Trinidad & Tobago
Qualified: Runner’s Up, 2014 Caribbean Cup
Head Coach: Stephen Hart
Trinidad and Tobago have had a difficult year in terms of PR, being the home turf of corrupt executive Jack Warner. The team will want to keep their minds off of that business, and on the pitch where they have a tough task ahead.
Like Guatemala, there are a few names you will recognize. Kenwyne Jones has been a Premier League target forward for years (albeit a reserve most of that time).
Joevin Jones and Cordell Cato have held down versatile wide roles in Chicago and San Jose, respectively. But aside from a few players scattered throughout Europe, most of the roster is built with players from the Trinidadian league or throughout Central America.
With Kenwyne Jones involved, you have to think they will play a physical game up front with speed wide. The only question is whether that will be enough to tide them over.
Player to Watch: Kenwyne Jones
He’s the most dangerous guy on this squad, a guy who can get into defenders’ heads and bang in a few goals in the process. He’s fun to watch, when he gets service. If he’s on an island up top without anyone to provide him chances, he’ll be awful lonely, and the Soca Warriors will fall by the wayside.
Qualified: 4th Place, 2014 Caribbean Cup
Head Coach: Raul Gonzalez Triana
To be honest with you, Cuba provides the intrigue for every Gold Cup for which they qualify. Why? Because most of their players are relatively unknown, since coverage of the Caribbean Cup as well as the early 2018 World Cup Qualifying is relatively meager. Not to mention the fact that as soon as a player leaves Cuba, they’re all but done with the team (see Ozzy Alonso).
There are some veterans of the team who are again here, primarily Yenier Marquez who is 36. But given the squad’s lack of experience in international league play, it’s tough to believe they have any real shot to succeed in this tournament.
Player to Watch: Ariel Martinez
Martinez is the only other player besides Marquez on the squad who has scored in a Gold Cup, picking up three against Belize in 2013 (though Jose Ciprian Alfonso and Jaime Colome are both available for call-up after the Group Stage). The Cubans will need players like Martinez to step up if they have any real chance of sneaking out of Group C.