Los Angeles (AFP) – The United States and Mexico are hoping to unearth a new crop of talent as they attempt to extend their reign of dominance when the CONCACAF Gold Cup kicks off on Friday.
The biennial football championship for North America, Central America and Caribbean gets under way at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey with French Guiana taking on Canada before Honduras face Costa Rica.
The 12-team tournament is being staged at 14 venues across the United States, with the final to be held on July 26 at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers NFL team.
The United States will be aiming to atone for the disappointment of their 2015 campaign, when they flopped in the semi-finals of a tournament won by Mexico.
The tournament has been dominated by Mexico and the United States ever since its inception in 1991. The North American rivals have won every edition of the championship between them except from Canada’s victory in 2000.
While history suggests another Mexico-US battle for the title this time around, the playing field may have been levelled by the fact that neither nation is fielding its strongest team.
US coach Bruce Arena, whose priority remains the ongoing 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, has opted to rest several first-choice players from duty.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio has adopted a similar approach, with El Tri only recently completing their campaign at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
“We have a large number of domestic players because our European-based players need a break,” Arena said. “They had long seasons plus the June World Cup qualifiers, so they needed a break and then they need to start their preseasons in July. That was the appropriate move.”
The Americans warmed up for their tournament — which will kick off against Panama on Saturday — with a 2-1 friendly victory over Ghana last weekend.
The experimental line-up featured a crop of new faces, with the goals coming from MLS players Dom Dwyer and Kellyn Acosta.
– World Cup chance –
England-born striker Dwyer, who became a US citizen in March, caught the eye with a lively display that included a debut goal.
Arena has encouraged his youthful squad members to view the Gold Cup as a chance to force their way into his thinking for crucial World Cup qualifiers later this year.
“There’s a great opportunity for these guys to lock down roster positions for our games in September and October as well,” Arena said. “The roster has a nice blend of experience and talented players with less experience. It makes for good competition.”
Speaking after a training session on Tuesday, Arena said while the value of a Gold Cup victory was debatable, the US had only one thing on their mind — victory.
“There’s no actual significance for this championship,” Arena told reporters. “But it’s important to win your confederation championship, and we’re certainly setting our sights on that.”
The US should qualify comfortably from Group B, where along with Panama their opponents include minnows Martinique and Nicaragua.
Mexico should also have a straightforward passage to the knockout rounds from Group C, which includes El Salvador, Curacao and Jamaica.
Group A features Honduras, Costa Rica, French Guiana and Canada.