Gold Cup 2013: The Chicago Edition

Much like the tournament itself, the new Gold Cup trophy looks a lot like the last one. (image: concacaf.com)

Much like the tournament itself, the new Gold Cup trophy looks a lot like the last one. (image: concacaf.com)

This year’s Gold Cup comes with extra DaMarcus Beasley and extra Soldier Field! OTF’s Austin Fido delivers his verdict on what to expect from all the teams in the Chicago edition of CONCACAF’s Gold Cup…

Twelve teams start, USMNT and El Tri finish. The Gold Cup is a biennial celebration of the virtue of constancy. But, like any trip, the journey can be as enjoyable as the destination. Here’s a look at what each team is likely to offer in this year’s month-long prelude to another (hopefully) USA vs. Mexico final, this time at Soldier Field…

Group A: Canada, Martinique, Mexico, Panama

The opening match of the tournament – Canada vs. Martinique – will probably determine the identity of USMNT’s quarterfinal opponents.

CANADA

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/7 – vs. Martinique

7/11 – vs. Mexico

7/14 – vs. Panama

Ever since their World Cup 2014 campaign ended with an 8-1 defeat to Honduras in October 2012, the Canadian Soccer Association has been in a prolonged sulk. For more than six months, Canada’s football team has relied on lame-duck managers (Colin Miller’s third stint as interim head coach starts with this tournament), cycled through a bewildering number of young players, and lost — a lot. January’s 0-0 draw with USMNT is the only international match the Canadians haven’t lost in five outings since their traumatic trip to San Pedro de Sula.

The Reds’ most recent embarrassment was a 1-1 tie with Ventura County Fusion, a USL PDL team. All the recent turmoil will be justified if a strong, fluent, settled, Canada team emerges by 2016. The first step toward that goal is the appointment of Benito Floro as full-time head coach. But he won’t take charge until after Gold Cup. Mercifully, that should mean this is the last set of international football fixtures the CSA approaches with the enthusiasm of a teenager roused from a nap to take out the garbage.

Key Player: Will Johnson

The Portland Timbers captain is now Canada’s captain; and Canada need him to bring some of Portland’s 2013 MLS magic to the Gold Cup.

How they got here: Automatic qualification

Expected to… Struggle.

1) Interim coach 2) Senior players left out of the squad 3) Might not get out of the group stage.

Wildest Dreams: Beat Martinique heavily; Sneak into quarterfinals as one of the best third-placed teams and play USMNT in Baltimore on 7/21.

MARTINIQUE

(image: en.wikipedia.org)

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/7 – vs. Canada

7/11 – vs. Panama

7/14 – vs. Mexico

Back in December, Les Matinino were the surprise of the 2012 Caribbean Cup, winning a group that included Cuba and Jamaica. At the core of the squad is a group of professionals from Europe’s lower leagues, as well as Portland Timbers’ Frederic Piquionne. Despite finding themselves in arguably the strongest group in the tournament, a third-place finish in Group A (and progress to the knock-out stages) is not out of their reach.

And tell me this isn’t the most bad-ass (unofficial) national flag in the world:

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Key Player: Frederic Piquionne

He’s the most recognizable name in the squad, the most likely to challenge international-class defenses, and has had half a season of MLS to acclimatize to US conditions. Add Martinique to the list of nations grateful to Caleb Porter if Piquionne gets a fast start in Gold Cup.

How they got here: Fourth place in the 2012 Caribbean Cup

Essentially, Martinique has the Gold Cup spot everyone expected Jamaica to fill.

Expected to… Lose every game.

But handling complacent opponents is Les Matinino’s strength (au revoir, Reggae Boyz).

Wildest Dream: Win their opening match

It’s effectively a playoff with Canada for a shot at a quarterfinal with USMNT.

MEXICO

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/7 – vs. Panama

7/11 – vs. Canada

7/14 – vs. Martinique

The Mexico squad for Gold Cup 2013 is about as close as we may ever get to finding if there’s any truth in the hypothesis that any squad of players from Liga MX can make a decent run at a CONCACAF tournament trophy. These guys aren’t nobodies, but only two of them (Raul Jimenez and Alfredo Talavera) were part of El Tri’s Confederations Cup roster. Gold Cup 2013 is a chance for new faces to force their way into Mexico’s World Cup qualifying plans.

Key Player: Raul Jimenez

A big tournament for Club América’s big man would put him in the frame to partner with Chicharito when the Hex returns in September. Whoever gets Jimenez reliable service will get attention too.

How they got here: Automatic qualification

The point of Gold Cup is for Mexico to play USMNT in the final.

Expected to… Make the final.

Not winning the tournament would be disappointing, but not making the final would be a disaster.

Wildest Dreams: Win every game; Score 20 goals and concede none; Unearth five or six legitimate potential new starters for El Tri’s sputtering World Cup qualifying campaign.

PANAMA

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/7 – vs. Mexico

7/11 – vs. Martinique

7/14 – vs. Canada

Like all the teams in this tournament that still have hope of making World Cup 2014, Panama’s squad lacks several senior players. The likes of Felipe Baloy and Luis Tejada are taking a break, leaving Jaime Penedo and Blas Perez to lead a team that should target a semifinal appearance.

Key Player: Blas Perez

Since it’s unlikely we’ll see Panama in the World Cup, this could be the 32 year-old’s last significant international tournament. He needs six goals to catch Luis Tejada as Panama’s all-time leading scorer.

How they got here: Fifth place in the 2013 Copa Centroamericana

Expected to… Lose to Mexico in Group A, and again in a semifinal.

Wildest Dream: Winning the tournament

This will probably require Panama to beat both Mexico and USMNT, but there’s a remote chance that Blas Perez exploits the thrown-together back lines El Tri and the Yanks are sending into this tournament, thereby leading Los Canaleros to the Gold Cup.

GROUP B: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago

Yes, Honduras will win the group at a canter. But the other three teams look evenly matched, which suggests just one of them progresses from the group. A third-place qualifier most likely needs a win, not two draws.

El SALVADOR

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/8 – vs. Trinidad & Tobago

7/12 – vs. Honduras

7/15 – vs. Haiti

The FIFA world rankings suggest El Salvador is the worst team in Group B, but the Salvadorans will be disappointed if they don’t make it out of the group as runners-up. This is a youthful team — 16 players on the 23-man roster are under 25 and only one is over 30 — but one with growing international experience. Nine members of the starting lineup for January’s Copa Centroamericana semifinal are in the squad for this tournament.

This is a chance to gauge the development of a promising generation for Salvadoran soccer that was last noticed in the U.S. when it knocked the USMNT U-23 team out of the qualifying tournament for the 2012 Olympics. Seven of the guys who started that day for El Salvador are in the senior squad for Gold Cup.

Key Player: Jaime Alas

Perhaps the best of El Salvador’s emerging talent, he plays for Rosenborg, one of Norway’s top clubs (as does USMNT’s Mix Diskerud). Probably best known to USMNT (and Fire fans) as the guy who scored on Sean Johnson in injury time of the Olympic qualifying match that ended US hopes of competing at London 2012. 

How they got here: Third place in 2013 Copa Centroamericana.

Expected to… Lose in the quarterfinals

Wildest Dream: Winning the group

This would most likely set up a quarterfinal with Costa Rica, arguably the third-best team in the competition. Second place in Group B brings a probable match with Panama, and catching Los Canaleros on an off-day (to proceed to a semifinal with Mexico) looks like El Salvador’s best hope for this tournament.

HAITI

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/8 – vs. Honduras

7/12 – vs. Trinidad & Tobago

7/15 – vs. El Salvador

You may have noticed Haiti’s football team recently — Les Grenadiers took a creditable 2-1 defeat from their June friendly with Spain. Just three days later, Haiti got an even more impressive 2-2 draw with Italy. So, despite not having won a match in 2013, Haiti’s national soccer team has reason to be pleased with itself.

Those results suggest the Haitians have little to fear from their Group B opponents. In what looks likely to be the most tightly contested group in this year’s Gold Cup, the caliber of recent opponents and the high level of professional experience in their squad could just be sufficient to nudge Les Grenadiers into the knock-out rounds.

Key Player: Kim Jaggy

The Swiss-born defender has played top-flight soccer in the Netherlands, Greece, and, of course, Switzerland (for whom he was also a youth international). He hasn’t played for his country since Les Grenadiers bowed out of World Cup qualifying in 2011. Jaggy’s return boosts competition for places in a Haitian back line that needs to perform well — not least because goal difference could well be the defining factor in deciding which teams get out of Group B.

How they got here: Third place in 2012 Caribbean Cup

Expected to... Win many fans, but no matches.

Wildest Dream: The semifinals

If both Haiti and Martinique out-perform expectations, we could be treated to a Francophone quarterfinal on July 20th — and Haiti beat Les Matininos in the Caribbean Cup. That said, any knock-out stage action with Haiti would be an unexpected treat.

HONDURAS

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/8 – vs. Haiti

7/12 – vs. El Salvador

7/15 – vs. Trinidad & Tobago

Prohibitive favorites to win Group B, Los Catrachos will be more concerned about the knock-out stages than anything El Salvador, Haiti, or Trinidad might throw at them. To progress beyond the quarterfinals, the Hondurans will need to do something that has proved beyond them in 2013: beat a Hex rival outside San Pedro de Sula.

Their presumed quarterfinal opponent is Costa Rica — a team that has twice beaten Honduras this year. Avenging those defeats would be an important step toward reestablishing the claim that Los Catrachos are the rising force in CONCACAF. Anything more than that is an unlikely bonus.

Key Player: Roger Rojas

The most consistently prolific young goal-scorer in Honduran domestic football since Jerry Bengtson, Rojas will want to use this tournament to show he can match Bengtson’s production for Los Catrachos as well. Someone has to, since Bengtson walked out on the national team prior to the Hex match against USMNT.

How they got here: Runners-up in 2013 Copa Centroamericana

Expected to… Lose to Costa Rica in the quarterfinals.

Wildest Dream: Making the final

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

image: socawarriors.net

image: socawarriors.net

Group Stage Schedule

7/8 – vs. El Salvador

7/12 – vs. Haiti

7/15 – vs. Honduras

Any optimism generated by T&T’s run to the Caribbean Cup final last year has dissipated over the course of five dreadful friendly matches in 2013. The Soca Warriors haven’t won a game this year, nor have they scored a goal. The only match they didn’t lose was a 0-0 draw with Belize.

Newly appointed head coach Stephen Hart has much work to do, but the priority is to get this team scoring again.

Key Player: Kenwyne Jones

Sufficiently talented to have made his living as a Premier League forward for the last six seasons, Jones has a miserable scoring record for his country: seven goals in more than 50 appearances. Philadelphia Union’s Keon Daniel has scored more goals for Trinidad & Tobago than Kenwyne Jones. This must be addressed.

How they got here: Runners-up in 2012 Caribbean Cup

Expected to… Exit after the group stage without wins or goals.

Wildest Dream: Stephen Hart leads the land of his birth to second place in the group and a quarter-final against surprise Group A runner-up, Canada, and a cathartic victory over his former employers puts Hart’s Soca Warriors into the semifinals for the first time since 2000.

GROUP C: Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, USA

BELIZE

(image: en.wikipedia.org)

(image: en.wikipedia.org)

Group Stage Schedule

7/9 – vs. USA

7/13 – vs. Costa Rica

7/16 – vs Cuba

“I call on our national team to not only beat the United States, but to humiliate the United States,” said Ruperto Vincente, President of the Belize Football Federation, according to a local newspaper report on June 20th. It is certainly an over-ambitious statement, but only the first part of it is deluded. The Jaguars will not beat USMNT in Gold Cup, but should they score a goal. The Belizeans will then have humiliated their opening-match opponents — or at least the unfortunate defender who inevitably gets blamed for allowing such a thing to happen.

Key Player: Deon McCauley

The leading scorer in CONCACAF’s current World Cup qualifying cycle, a stat that will get a lot of air time over the next couple of weeks. More pertinently, from the perspective of Gold Cup, McCauley scored the injury-time winner against Nicaragua in Copa Centroamericana that gave Belize a 2-1 win and a guaranteed place in this tournament. It was also the last goal the Jaguars scored in international matches, though they have only played three games since. Injury, unfortunately, has disrupted McCauley’s preparation for this tournament.

How they got here: Fourth place in 2013 Copa Centroamericana

Expected to… Lose frequently and heavily.

Wildest Dream: Beat Cuba and bounce into a quarterfinal against Mexico as one of the best third-placed teams of the groups.

COSTA RICA

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/9 – vs. Cuba

7/13 – vs. Belize

7/16 – vs. USMNT

The reigning Copa Centroamericana champions and second-place holders in the Hex after the June round of qualifiers, Costa Rica lost to USMNT on a freak goal in freak weather conditions and held El Tri to a draw in Azteca. Surely, Los Ticos are the consensus choice for CONCACAF’s third-best team.

If there are any doubters remaining, this tournament is the Costa Ricans’ chance to win them over. As with all the Hex teams, senior players have been rested for the tournament, but 13 of the 22 who were available for that snowy night in Colorado are in this squad. This team is substantially similar to the one that has been competing effectively with USMNT and El Tri in the Hex, and it looks like the only team in this tournament that could, with a little luck, break the USA-Mexico Gold Cup duopoly.

Key Player: Alvaro Saborio

Of the players in the squad, Saborio has the most caps and the most goals. All his experience and ability will be required if Los Ticos are to progress to the final, or lift the Cup.

How they got here: Won 2013 Copa Centroamericana

Expected to… Lose to USMNT in the semifinals.

Wildest Dream: Winning it all

CUBA

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/9 – vs. Costa Rica

7/13 – vs. USMNT

7/16 – vs. Belize

Cuba has a solid history of qualifying for Gold Cup (featuring in six of the last eight tournaments) and an equally consistent history of player defections during this competition — leaving players behind in 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2011. From a soccer perspective, this is presumably why the Cuban national team finds it difficult to get out of the group stages of the tournament: maintaining continuity in the squad is clearly a challenge.

But this time, the Cubans have a better-than-usual chance of progressing to the knock-out rounds for the first time since 2003. Belize is an opponent they should feel confident about playing. Three points and a favorable goal difference will be sufficient for two third-placed teams from the group stages to move to the quarter-finals. If they can hold on to their players until July 16th, there’s a strong likelihood Cuba will be one of those teams.

Key Player: Odelin Molina

His 116 caps is the national team appearance record for Cuba, and the simplest expression of Molina’s experience at the international level. When goal difference is likely to define success or failure in the tournament, a reliable ‘keeper is invaluable.

How they got here: Won 2012 Caribbean Cup

Expected to… Lose at least as many players as matches.

Wildest Dream: Regardless of how far they progress, if the Cubans win more than one match it will be a shock.

UNITED STATES

image: en.wikipedia.org

image: en.wikipedia.org

Group Stage Schedule

7/9  – vs. Belize

7/13  – vs. Cuba

7/16 – vs. Cost Rica

Although it is far from a defining moment in his stewardship of USMNT, Jürgen Klinsmann would rather win this tournament than rely solely on World Cup qualification as the measure of his success. He will have to coach his way to this goal. His squad is a promising blend of emerging talent and proven ability, but the players are not a team. Not yet, anyway.

Appointing DaMarcus Beasley as captain is a shrewd promotion of the team-first ethic Klinsi is pointedly requiring of some one of the flashier names on the roster. Though any tension between Klinsmann and Landon Donovan is likely overstated (both have said and done pretty much exactly what they ought to have said and done since the sabbatical ended), the reconciliation narrative needs stage management. Gold Cup 2013 will be the stage.

Key Player: Landon Donovan

Like it or not, most of USMNT’s performances will be described in terms of Donovan’s contribution, or lack thereof.

How they got here: Automatic qualification

Expected to… Win. Every match and the tournament.

Wildest Dream: Much like El Tri, USMNT wants to dominate every opponent and see at least half-a-dozen international careers launched or revived. We’re rooting for you, Gooch.

OTF’s resident CONCACAF obsessive Austin Fido is on Twitter. Follow him @canetop.

5 thoughts on “Gold Cup 2013: The Chicago Edition

  1. Pingback: Gold Cup 2013: The Chicago Edition | Futbol News

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