Gold Cup: Quarterfinal & Semifinal Cupdate
As Gold Cup rumbles into the semifinal stage, OTF’s Austin Fido looks back at the quarterfinals and forward to next round…
CONCACAF is an organization that exists to facilitate USA-Mexico soccer matches. Without the region’s biggest draws at Soldier Field for the Gold Cup final, the tournament cannot meet its organizer’s objective. Time then to review the presumptive finalists’ quarterfinal performances, and consider their semifinal prospects.
Quarterfinal 1: Panama 6 – 1 Cuba
Panama’s attacking verve surged back into view in this match.
Despite falling behind to José Ciprian Alfonso’s rather wonderful 21st minute strike, Los Canaleros dominated possession from the start.
Still, it took a stroke of luck to level the score.
Renay Malblanche got his hand in the way of a goal-bound shot. Unfortunately for him, this was witnessed by one of the few referees in the tournament whose thinking is not clouded by “ball-to-hand”.
The ensuing penalty reacquainted Los Canaleros with their scoring touch. Five goals followed; four of them after Cuba’s Ariel Martinez got himself sent off for a kick to Blas Perez’s groin. It looked clumsy rather than malicious. Nonetheless, a red card is warranted whenever an incident looks more like Muay Thai than soccer.
Panama used the gift of an extra man to turn the match into a morale-boosting goal-fest in advance of the semifinal against Mexico.
Quarterfinal 2: Mexico 1 – 0 Trinidad & Tobago
Like Los Canaleros, the Mexicans enjoyed more possession and shots on goal than their opponents.
However, El Tri never found the bit of luck required to break T&T’s stoic rearguard action. The win came the hard way: get enough shots on goal, and the odds start to favor one going in.
Raul Jimenez registered El Tri’s first and only goal of the match with his team’s eleventh attempt on target.
That was in the 84th minute. Until then, the Soca Warriors had turned what little possession they got into a compelling essay on Mexico’s vulnerability to set pieces and the big man up front. Had Jonathan Orozco not made the save of the tournament in the ninth minute, the match might have been different. But he palmed away Andre Boucaud’s blast on goal, part of a generally excellent display by both ‘keepers in this game.
The Soca Warriors’ inability to make their chances count cost them the upset. For Mexico, a third consecutive victory is encouraging, but the streak needs to be extended to five for this tournament to be regarded as a success.
Quarterfinal 3: USMNT 5 – 1 El Salvador
Another dominating win for USMNT, this one distinguished by the impression Jürgen Klinsmann’s B-team is playing his A-game.
Can this lacerating attacking style be applied to the stars of the USMNT player pool? That question will consume the rest of Klinsi’s preparation for Brazil 2014.
Gold Cup showcases the curse and blessing of CONCACAF. There may be too many makeweight opponents to offer a true preparation of the quality necessary to succeed in the World Cup, but it is a useful testing ground for emerging talents and tactics.
This result is likely destined to be the focus of much hindsight when the final summation of Klinsi’s USMNT tenure is due.
Quarterfinal 4: Honduras 1 – 0 Costa Rica
Los Catrachos keep winning games they should lose. It could be tactics, but in this game Alvaro Saborio missed at least three chances he would typically score. That’s not tactics, it’s witchcraft.
Unless the plan is to simulate the conditions of winning Gold Cup, because to win the tournament from here, Honduras must beat two teams surely considered favorites.
So perhaps there is value in these stumbling, anxious victories. They are rehearsals of Los Catrachos’ only conceivable route to the final — and the cup.
Semifinal 1: USMNT vs Honduras
Credit is due Honduras for reaching the semifinals with arguably the least impressive of all the B-teams in the tournament.
The Honduran strikers have been largely invisible to date. Los Catrachos haven’t got a goal out of the men up top since the 4th minute of their opening game, when Rony Martinez scored against Haiti.
The defense has repeatedly been breached, but somehow the team has preserved a clean sheet in every meaningful match.
Repeatedly kept in games by the heroic Donis Escober (more on him below), Los Catrachos have found ways for a talented roster of midfielders to get the ball in the net. The most recent incident was the most unlikely: 5′ 7″ Andy Najar evaded his marker to score a match-winning header against Costa Rica.
If you see Honduras’s glass as half full, then you will see this as evidence of a well-balanced side without shortage of goal scoring options.
I see a glass half empty; once full of good fortune, surely now running dry.
USMNT’s biggest challenge is complacency.
Key Man: Donis Escober
He is arguably the Honduran Nick Rimando: a talented ‘keeper unfortunate to have been born in the same era as a national team legend. Noel Valladares is the Tim Howard to Escober’s Rimando, but Valladares is not at this tournament. His understudy has played a blinder.
Escober has not conceded a goal in this tournament. The brace conceded to Trinidad & Tobago was on Kevin Hernandez’s watch, as Luis Fernando Suarez rested virtually his entire first-choice selection for a match Honduras didn’t need — or try — to win.
If his team is to pull off the upset against USMNT, Escober will need to come up big once again.
Semifinal 2: Panama vs. Mexico
Los Canaleros are dangerously close to favorites for this match.
Not just because El Tri lost to Panama earlier in the tournament, but also due to a persistent lack of fluency in Mexico’s play ever since.
Although it is basically an entirely different team to the one which struggled through the Hex in June, the pattern of El Tri’s play has been frustratingly familiar. Like their more vaunted compatriots, the reserves (El B?) have lacked punch in the final third.
This was most tellingly illustrated in the quarterfinal against Trinidad & Tobago, which played out as a near-replica of the 0-0, can’t-score-won’t-score fiascos El Tri has been staging at Azteca this year.
Sure, there was a goal, but it came very late. And though one goal got Mexico past the Soca Warriors, it is unlikely to suffice against Panama.
Key Man: Alberto Quintero
Of Panama’s six quarterfinal goals, Quintero had a hand in the first three.
First, his cross set up the sequence which won Los Canaleros a penalty. Next, he dribbled into the box and shot pointlessly into a defender, but was the man the Cubans were watching when the second ball came back toward the penalty area. Blas Perez was left one-on-one with an overmatched marker, and he nodded to Gabriel Torres, who wasn’t marked at all. The third goal came from a Quintero cross that missed its target (Perez) and bounced off a defender to the feet of Carlos Rodriguez.
He was the most dangerous player on the pitch when Panama beat Mexico in the group stages, and that form appears to be returned for the rematch.
Austin Fido is excited to see where CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb will sit at Cowboys Stadium. Follow him @canetop.