The stakes will be high and the competition promises to be fierce when the Concacaf Gold Cup gets underway on Tuesday in the United States. The last edition of the championship for North, Central American and Caribbean nations saw the big sides leave some of their best players at home in the midst of qualifying for the following year’s World Cup. But this time around, the United States, Mexico and others will be at full strength for a tournament that will be vital in determining which team goes onto the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. Here’s how the groups and each team are shaping up:
The U.S. has huge motivation to defend the title it won two years ago, knowing that doing so would guarantee a place in the Confederations Cup. After experimenting heavily since the last World Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann has gone with an experienced squad for the team’s first competitive matches in more than 12 months. After some poor performances late last year and in early 2015, friendly wins in the Netherlands and Germany means the USA should come into the tournament with confidence.
Following semifinal exits in four of the last five Gold Cups, Honduras will again be looking to go far this time around. There was little to savor from losing all three matches in the 2014 World Cup and a subsequent failure later in year in the Copa Centroamericana. But the appointment of Jorge Luis Pinto, who led Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup, last December has brought a recent upturn in performances.
Panama has improved hugely in recent years, but also suffered some painful near-misses. After finishing runners-up to the U.S. in the Gold Cup two years ago, the Central Americans narrowly and agonizingly missed out on a playoff to go to its first ever World Cup. It remains to be seen how much veterans like Blas Perez and Luis Tejada have left to give.
Drawn into the most competitive group in the competition, Haiti will have a tough job to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. A third place finish at last year’s Caribbean Cup provides some encouragement, but realistically simply avoiding finishing without any points will be a hard ask.
While the focus is on the eternal rivals Mexico and the United States, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to look past the team that got further than any Concacaf nation in the 2014 World Cup. The absence through injury of Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas is a significant blow, but there is still reason to be confident that the Ticos can reach the final for the first time since 2002.
This year has not offered a lot of encouragement for El Salvador, with its only win in six matches coming against minnows Saint Kitts and Nevis last month. Reaching a third consecutive Gold Cup quarterfinal could be a challenge.
After groups-stage exits in four of the last six Gold Cups, Canada will be desperate to make it to the last eight this time around. And following a dismal spell for the team through 2013 and much of 2014, results have begun to pick up under former Real Madrid manager Benito Floro.
Despite losing all three games, the Reggae Boyz certainly didn’t disgrace itself at the Copa America when going gown narrowly to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Still it is a tough ask for a team centered around talent from Major League Soccer and the lower leagues in England to head straight from Chile into the Gold Cup.
El Tri also faces the challenge of playing the Copa America and Gold Cup back-to-back, but it will do so with an almost entirely different squad. And Mexico has made it clear that the Gold Cup is the priority, with the first-choice team, including Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos, being reserved for the attempt to regain Concacaf superiority and earn a playoff with the U.S. later this year to go to the Confederations Cup. However, preparations have been far from ideal, with Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and key defender Héctor Moreno being ruled out of the tournament through injury.
Trinidad and Tobago
The Soca Warriors will fancy its chances of getting out of the group stage for just the third time, having been handed a relatively kind draw. Yet four straight defeats heading into the tournament, including a 1-0 loss to a Curaçao team ranked 144 in the world, have been a significant reality check.
A first quarterfinal appearance since 2003 last time out showed that there is some real talent in Cuba. But just two victories since last March mean a squad of players based entirely at home is unlikely to enter the Gold Cup in the best of spirits.
Quarterfinalists in the last Gold Cup and runners-up in the 2014 Copa Centroamericana, Guatemala will be looking to join Mexico in making it out of Group C. With Seattle Sounders attacking midfielder Marco Pappa in good form in Major League Soccer, it has a good chance to do just that, although a 4-0 defeat to the United States last week may have tempered expectations.
Schedule (all times EDT)
Tuesday, July 7 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas
Panama vs. Haiti at 7 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes)
USA vs. Honduras at 9:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Wednesday, July 8 at Stub Hub Center in Carson, Calif.
Costa Rica vs. Jamaica at 8 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
El Salvador vs. Canada at 10:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Thursday, July 9 at Soldier Field, Chicago
Trinidad and Tobago vs. Guatemala at 7 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes)
Mexico vs. Cuba at 9:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Friday. July 10 at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Honduras vs. Panama at 6 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
USA vs. Haiti at 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Saturday, July 11 at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston
Jamaica vs. Canada at 6:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Costa Rica vs. El Salvador at 9 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Sunday, July 12 at University of Phoenix Stadium
Trinidad and Tobago vs. Cuba at 6:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes)
Guatemala vs. Mexico at 9 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision, Univision Deportes)
Monday, July 13 at Sporting Park, Kansas City
Haiti vs. Honduras at 7 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes. UniMas)
Panama vs. USA at 9:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Tuesday, July 14 at BMO Field, Toronto
Jamaica vs. El Salvador at 6 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Canada vs. Costa Rica at 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Wednesday, July 15 at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Cuba vs. Guatemala at 6 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago at 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Saturday, July 18 at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
Quarterfinal 1: 1A vs. 3B/3C at 5 p.m. (Fox, Univision Deportes)
Quarterfinal 2: 2A vs. 1B at 8 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision, Univision Deportes)
Sunday, July 19 at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Quarterfinal 3: 1C vs. 3A/3B at 4:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes)
Quarterfinal 4: 2C vs, 2B at 7:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes)
Wednesday, July 22 at Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Semifinal 1: winner quarterfinal 1 vs. winner quarterfinal 2 at 6 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, UniMas)
Semifinal 2: winner quarterfinal 1 vs. winner quarterfinal 2 at 9 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes, UniMas)
Saturday, July 25 at PPL Park, Chester, Penn.
Loser semifinal 1 vs. loser semifinal 2 at 4 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Univision, Univision Deportes)
Sunday, July 26 at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Winner semifinal 1 vs. winner semifinal 2 at 7:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes)