The CONCACAF Gold Cup begins this coming Sunday, June 5th, with the United States as the host nation. This twenty day tournament should produce high drama as the teams battle it out for CONCACAF superiority and a Confederations Cup place in 2013.
North America, Caribbean and Central America countries comprise the CONCACAF region. The competition is broken into three groups who have qualified through automatic berths or through regional tournaments. The top two teams from each group advance to the next round, and the two third place teams with the most points advance as well. The tournament has been dominated by the North American sides. No team outside this area has ever won the Cup. The U.S. has won the event four times, with their last victory in 2007. That victory gave them entry to the 2009 Confederations Cup were they had an impressive win over Spain before losing the final to Brazil 3-2 .
Mexico are five time champions and won the last Cup in 2009, thrashing the U.S. team 5-0 in the final. The U.S. team had to send an under-strength squad due to their involvement in the Confederations Cup. Canada is the 2000 Gold Cup winner, but have not fared well recently. They have a history of being underachievers in the tournament.
This year’s tournament promises to be full of action. While the U.S. and Mexico are the favorites to win the event, teams like Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama could finally be in position to shake things up.
Group A features a tantalizing rematch between Costa Rica and Mexico. Costa Rica held Mexico to a 1-1 draw in a 2009 Semi-Final match. Mexico went through on penalties, and went on to win the Cup. The group carries two drab teams in El Salvador and Cuba. The most interesting part of Cuba coming to play in the tournament is seeing how many of the players defect before the first match. El Salvador usually wins one match a tournament, so they will beat Cuba and go back home. Outside the big rematch, it should be a pretty predictable group.
The young and ambitious Costa Rican side could be a legitimate dark horse to win. They play a counter-attacking style of football. They are fast on the attack and stout in defense. It’s a program that I consider to be on the rise. The federation is getting their best players abroad. It’s developing a fantastic academy system. The Saprissa Academy is producing players that are growing through the ranks together, this kind of development will pay dividends for the association in the near future.
Mexico is always a favorite to win the tournament. The growing amount of European based Mexican players seems to be producing a different breed of Mexican soccer players. You see less of the small, dainty and technically gifted athletes; increasingly replaced by the taller, more muscular and athletic players. Manchester United sensation Javier Hernandez will be the most talked about player of the tournament. The forward has impressed in his first term with the Red Devils, providing key goals all season in different competitions. He has other teammates that have played for British based clubs this year as well. Pablo Barrera (West Ham), Efrain Juarez (Celtic) and Carlos Salcido (Fulham) have all logged decent performances for their clubs. Players are also creeping into the Dutch Eredivisie and La Liga of Spain to gain international experience. Overall, this team is young and talented. Anything less than a finals appearance will be considered a failure for them.
Group B is the group that should provide the most drama. Three teams could advance from this region. Honduras, Guatemala and Jamaica all have good squads and the matches will be highly competitive. Anyone of the three could win this group, but Honduras has to be the early favorite to do so.
Honduras is a team that always make noise in the tournament, often getting knocked out in the quarter and semi-final stages. In the 2010 FIFA World Cup, they failed to score a single goal, securing their only point in a nil-nil draw with Switzerland. They used the experience to help them win the 2011 Copa Centroamericana. They also have players in top leagues all over the world. In England, Wigan has Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas; Tottenham have Wilson Palacios; Leeds United employ Ramon Nunez; Scottish club Celtic have Emilio Izaguirre. The tournament experience, combined with a growing crop of players going abroad, is helping to cement Honduras as the premier power in Central America. The starting front men of Honduras are experienced and crafty players. They are strong from the set piece and shoot well from range if left open. The coach often will change things up late in the match by substituting them for pacy strikers. This is a nightmare for tiring defenders, and often leads to late game opportunities for Honduras. They also have older goalkeepers and defensive players that have played together for a few tournaments. The problem with the squad is that they are wasteful, they don’t put teams away, often conceding late goals that translate into draws and defeats. They should win the group, but Jamaica and Guatemala have the ability to snatch draws, which would make the final games very interesting.
Guatemala is an interesting side. They do not have the crop of international players, their best players play in MLS. Striker Carlos Ruiz and midfielder Marco Pappa are the main threats for the Guatemalans. What the team does well is work hard. They are always harassing and chasing opponents around the pitch. They dabble in some gamesmanship to win set pieces. Their style is a bit negative to score from open play. They often play 4-5-1 and rely on defensive errors to score. They have the ability to get into the quarter-finals and upset a bigger seed. They won’t win the tournament, but they could provide some drama if they advance out of the group stage.
Jamaica is an odd team. They have good players that populate the MLS and Norwegian leagues. It’s a funny thought, Jamaicans in Norway, its kinda like Jamaica having a bobsled team- maybe someone should make a movie out of that. Anyway, they have a good mix of old and young talent. They have the quality to finish in the third spot or possibly better in this group. I don’t think they could advance much further, but their team is all out attack, and that leads to positive results in this tournament. Guadalupe made a magical and improbable run in 2007 that ended with them getting third place. They benefited from a side that attacked. Jamaica will try and emulate that style. At the very least they will add some interesting characters and should be fun to watch.
Group C is another group that should be pretty cut and dry. The U.S. and Canada will take the first and second spots, with Panama probably getting the third spot. The United States are super favorites to win the Cup on their home soil. Unlike 2009, the U.S. will be sending a full strength squad to compete. Bob Bradley believes the Confederations Cup is an invaluable advantage in World Cup preparations, so he will throw everything he has in winning the tournament. Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones are just some of the European based players that will comprise the roster. The defense of the U.S. is the most fragile aspect of the team. They have a tendency to shut off in key moments, which could lead to some draws and a scramble win the group. Once in the quarter-finals they will cruise to the final, unless they happen to meet Mexico or Honduras.
Canada is a perennial under-achieving side. They always come into the tournament with lots of promise and then get bounced out. In 2007, they put a good run together and then got the U.S. in the semis. Two goals in the first half was too much for them to overcome as they bowed out of the tournament. Their best player is Dwayne DeRosario, who has tried to put the team on his back, but has never gotten them across the finish line. This year Canada is hoping to capitalize on a growing European player base. Most of their players are in Germany, MLS or in the lower divisions of England. They are solid at the back, but lack the options up front to cause other teams problems. The team has played together for a few tournaments and this is the time for them to put up or shut up.
Guadeloupe is a team that made a fairy tale run to the semi-finals in 2007. They made it to the quarter-finals in 2009, they had the benefit of easier groups. I’m not sure they can replicate those runs in this group. I think its an early curtain call for them.
Overall, the Gold Cup should provide some thrilling soccer over the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see how the European players fair after such a long season. The short turnaround from the end of the season to this tournament could be an interesting factor in results. Meanwhile, the MLS players are in mid-season form and should have plenty in the tank to perform. This tournament has a habit of producing summer transfers for top leagues in Europe as well. This trend might cause a few players to over perform to reach the next level.
Here is my bracket for after the group stages:
East Rutherford Quarter-finals
Honduras v. Canada: Honduras the winner
U.S. v. Guatemala: U.S. the winner———-U.S. beats Honduras to reach the final
Costa Rica v. Jamaica: Costa Rica the winner
Mexico v. Panama: Mexico the winner——-Costa Rica beats Mexico to reach the final
Final: U.S. beats Costa Rica 3-2 in the Final
Twitter – @jaxbeach20