The Gold Cup is back and it’s being brought back right here stateside. This international tournament, that comes around every two years, that is participated only by nations in the CONCACAF region of the world. This region includes: North America, Central America and the Caribbean. 12 teams qualify through subregional tournaments in Central America and in the Caribbean, apart from Canada, the United States, and Mexico who qualify automatically into this tournament. It’s the international equivalent to the EUROs in Europe and to Copa America in South America (each took place last year). These types of tournaments are some of the most exciting in all of world football, with a playoff spot to earn a berth to the Confederations Cup (which took place last month) on the line. Prestige, and the chance to win one of the world’s most prestigious tournament is what’s to gain as well. This is the chance to proclaim your dominance over the region, this is the number one way to announce yourself to the world, to pull away from the region and announce yourself to the world. This is The Early Sub’s in depth preview of the entire Gold Cup field.
Canada come into this edition of the Gold Cup with an aura of optimism surrounding the team. The auto qualifiers bring in an arsenal of young talent that includes 16 year old phenom Alphonso Davies. The flying, Vancouver Whitecaps winger has been linked to European teams who look to take over his development. Canada have never been much trouble when it comes to their national soccer team, but they are the only team other then Mexico and the United States to triumph at this tournament. They won the 2000 edition over Colombia 2-0, and come in with their most talented roster in recent memory. They’re also lead by experienced Ecuadorian coach, Octavio Zambrano, who’s a former MLS coach. The Canadians have a serious chance of making an impression on this Gold Cup. With an experienced coach at the helm, armed by a core of young players who look to make their mark on the world here, Canada may not win this tournament, but they’ll be looking to make noise. They’ll put on a decent display in their group, that’ll see them advance to the Quarterfinals, but that may be as far as we see The Maple Leafs. As talented as their young players are, a trip to the Semifinals may be too tall an order.
Los Ticos are considered one of the strongest teams in the entire region, after their wonderful run to the Quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup. They had a disappointing Gold Cup the next year, however, when they were defeated in the Quarterfinals by rivals Mexico after extra time. Costa Rica have never been able to win the regional competition, but they have appeared at every single edition except for one. They have been close to winning too, falling in the final to the United States in the 2002 edition. This squad is perhaps the most realistic team to break the Mexico/United States deadlock that’s been dragging on since 2000, and they have the looks of a champion on paper. A team that includes Arsenal winger, Joel Campbell, and Sporting Clube de Portugal midfielder, Bryan Ruiz, Los Ticos are stacked with MLS talent. Real Madrid goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, is their one notable absentee, but other then their number 1, no. 1, Costa Rica are at full strength with total intention to win this tournament. They do come in with poor form however, coming in 4th in the Copa Centroamericana. Their magical quarterfinal run three years was terrific, but Los Ticos need a piece of silverware to officially announce themselves to the world. Anything less then a Semifinal appearance will be disappointing and I think that’s as far as Costa Rica will go.
The French territory make their Gold Cup debut in this year’s edition of the competition as they earned their spot by finishing 3rd in the Caribbean Cup last month. This nation is ineligible to participate in global tournaments, such as The World Cup, but can participate in regional tournaments such as The Gold Cup. Just qualifying for this tournament is a feat in itself for the region mainly consisting of tropical rain forest. They qualified over the likes of Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Their next feat may be to just net a goal over their much more prestigious footballing group mates (Canada, Costa Rica and Honduras) and nothing more. They have a few players on the side that ply their trade in Ligue 1 in France (Sloan Privat, Schaquille Dutard, Ludovic Baal), but even progressing past the group stages doesn’t seem realistic for the debutants.
Los Catrachos historically have been one of the most dangerous nations in Gold Cup history. They’ve appeared at every Gold Cup, apart from 1 and although they’ve never lifted the trophy, they finished runners up in 1991. They’ve also had an additional 3 Semifinal appearances in 2009, 2011, and 2013. There is a talent for “La H” to have themselves a decent tournament, and are led by Jorge Luis Pinto who masterminded Costa Rica’s quarterfinal appearance at The World Cup in 2014. Although Pinto sits in the hot seat for Honduras as they currently sit 2nd to last in World Cup Qualifying in the final round known as “The Hex,” Honduras did triumph in the Copa Centroamericana and will look to continue their tournament form here. Los Catrachos have been insanely disappointing in competitions since their 2013 Gold Cup Semifinal run. Finishing last in their groups in The 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Gold Cup. They’ll be turning to a host of local talent and MLS talent, like Maynor Figueroa and Boniek Garcia, to break them out of this tournament rut. They should make their way into the knockout stages past Group A, and a run to the Semfinals is realistic as well for Honduras.
Another territory of France. The small island territory of Martinique arrive at the tournament, qualifying by finishing 4th in the Caribbean Cup. Many may not have ever heard of the island, and like French Guiana are ineligible to participate in global competitions like The World Cup. They are good to go on regional tournaments and have participated in the Gold Cup before. This will actually be Martinique’s 4th appearance at The Gold Cup, and have reached the Quarterfinals on one occasion, back in 2002. A true minnow in every sense of the word, Martinique’s roster is mainly composed of unknown, local players, apart from Jordy Delem of the Seattle Sounders. Just reaching the Gold Cup is the feat for this side, but there just doesn’t seem like Martinique could win a single group game, nevertheless progress. Martinique will make their three appearances here before waving farewell to the rest of the field.
Considered as the punching bag of Central America. Nicaragua played their way into the Gold Cup by placing 5th in the Copa Centroamericana. That finish took them to a playoff with 5th place Caribbean Cup placers, Haiti, which ended with Nicaragua triumphing. This will only be the 2nd Gold Cup appearance by Los Pinoleros with a group stage exit in 2009 being their only other effort. There’s no hiding it with this club, Nicaragua are surely one of the three weakest teams in the field for this tournament along with French Guiana and Martinique. Most of these players consist of local league players and this nation were just able to sneak into this tournament. It’ll be a real surprise, and a real Cinderella story if they even progress past the Group Stages.
Panama once again make their return to The Gold Cup as they’ve failed to miss a single edition of the tournament since their wonderful run in 2005. After Los Canaleros failed to qualify for 6 of the first 7 Gold Cups (the Gold Cup began in 1991), Panama made an unlikely run to the Finals in 2005 and have since participated in every Gold Cup. 2015 was another deep run for Panama after they controversially fell to Mexico when Mark Geiger ref’d a shocker of a game. Panama are becoming a rising power in CONCACAF, even finishing 2nd in Copa Centroamericana and sitting in 4 of the Hex. They are the biggest sleeper of the tournament, and have a real chance of upsetting the established order. Lead by “El Bolillo” Hernan Dario Gomez, the Colombian won the 2015 CONCACAF Coach of the Year and can certify his legacy by winning this year’s tournament. Led by Anibal Godoy of the San Jose Earthquakes, this generation of Panamanians are in pursuit to cement their legacy as well. They are talented, and they are spirited. They went as far as the Semifinals two years ago, and I can’t see why they make it AT LEAST as far as that this year. Panama are dangerous, really look out for these Canaleros.
And now of course, it’s the Stars and Stripes. One of two teams in CONCACAF to appear in every single Gold Cup, albeit by automatic qualification. They are one of three teams to win this tournament, and are one of the two headed dragons of this entire region. The only nation, most years, that stands in the way of The Yanks, are their southern neighbors Mexico. This year’s tournament is no different, but Coach Bruce Arena has already insisted that Qualifying is the priority and the side will be partly depleted. Nevertheless, seasoned national team veterans will be taking their place for their nation and that always makes America favorites. Coach Bruce Arena is in his second stint in charge of The Yanks and has won this competition twice in his first stint (2002 and 2005). He’s a Coach that has proven that he can win this tournament and has already began to work his magic by pulling the United States up the Hex. 2015 was disappointing for the U.S. after losing out to Jamaica in the Semifinals, followed by dropping the 3rd place game to finish 4th in the entire tournament. They looked vulnerable, and Arena’s only been in charge for six months. The United States will have the talent to come in and triumph for the 6th time, but it will be a hard and grueling road to the top that may just culminate with a showdown against Mexico. I have them as one of my teams to reach the final.
Officially a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curacao has earned their first ever berth to the Gold Cup by bringing home their very first piece of silverware. Curacao won the Caribbean Cup last month to punch their ticket into North America’s biggest tournament. That makes them a potential force to reckon with as they beat Jamaica in the final to be called Caribbean kings. The Dutch territory has adopted a very Dutch style as play, as they were lead by the likes of Patrick Kluivert as early as last September. They are now lead by Remko Bicentini where he and his island side look to continue developing their total football style. Another secret to this Curacao side is their roster, and just how sneaky good this team is. Containing the likes of Aston Villa midfielder Leandro Bacuna and Southampton defender Cuco Martina. Almost every player on this roster has either played or is currently playing in the Eredivisie, showing their experience with top competition. Curacao is a real sleeper in Group C and could stun the more traditional soccer nations. Ranked 69th in the FIFA Rankings, Curacao is the 5th highest ranked team in the field, making them real candidates to advance into the knockout stages. And I suspect them to make an appearance in the Quarterfinals and nothing more in their very first try in North America’s tournament.
A nation that has proven to have the ability to progress out of the group stages and look to make some noise in the Quarterfinals, El Salvador will be entering their 10th Gold Cup. Los Cuscatlecos are 4 time Quarterfinalists at the Gold Cup and have been looking forward with a bit more optimism since Eduardo Lara took over. Playing an impressive Copa Centroamericana where they finished 3rd, Salvadorians have a real hope to progress past the group stages and into the Quarterfinals for the 5th time in their history. El Salvador didn’t have the very best of times in the 2015 edition of the Gold Cup when they finished 3rd in Group B and were eliminated right then and there. This time around they’ll be coming in with a couple of players who ply their trade right here in the United States. Darwin Ceren is a midfield regular for the San Jose Earthquakes, while Richard Menjivar and Andres Flores play for the New York Cosmos in the NASL. They have very capable players to hang in there and give opponents a contest, they can achieve their hope in going to the Quarterfinals but I can’t see them progressing from such a difficult Group C. El Salvador look like they’ll be the punching bag of the group and could have trouble grabbing a win in the group. They’ll be booted out in the opening round.
The 2015 Gold Cup Runners Up will get their immediate chance at revenge against Mexico as they both share Group C this year. Jamaica are normally the dominant force in the Caribbean and have qualified for 10 out of 13 Gold Cups. Jamaica’s 2nd place finish in 2015 was their best performance at North America’s tournament in their history. The Reggae Boyz are even lead by a man who knows how to get the job done in the region, as 1998 Jamaican World Cup alum, Tappa Whitmore leads his nation for a 2nd time in his coaching career. Jamaica are looked at as a serious threat from Group C as they look to even the score with Curacao after their loss to the small island in the Caribbean Cup final, as well as their showdown with Mexico. The Reggae Boyz will be coming in with plenty of MLS talent on hand including Kemar Lawrence of the New York Red Bulls. Darren Mattocks of the Portland Timbers will be their key man up top as Jamaica are looking to replicate that 2015 success when they went to the Finals. Jamaica have athleticism all over the field but it’s unclear if they can bring the quality to beat the likes of Mexico, Costa Rica or the United States. A trip to the Quarterfinals is realistic, but anything past that will be quite the miracle for the Reggae Boyz.
And yes, quite frankly, the main event of the evening. Mexico are quite often the most dominant nation and the best that CONCACAF has to offer. Not even the mighty Americans can stand up to the 7 Gold Cups these Mexicans have won, including another triumph two years ago. However, there is quite a disclaimer when it comes to this Mexican side. Mexico will be bringing in their B squad for the tournament, having their regulars sit this one out due to their qualifying and Confederations Cup duties. No Guardado’s, Chicharito’s, Herrera’s, Vela’s or Gio’s for this Gold Cup, instead Mexico will be employing a local heavy team. A deep Chivas Guadelajara contingent sit upon El Tri this year, as “El Profesor” Juan Carlos Osorio has laid trust on the Clausura Liga MX champions to bring home another piece of silverware this month. Osorio will really have to trust on his players and staff as well, since FIFA laid down a ban on the coach due to his behavior in Russia. His screaming at referee’s about their mother’s professions when a call didn’t go his way has led to him sitting out the span of 6 games which effectively takes him out of the Gold Cup. Without their coach, and without their regulars, this is as weak as Mexico could ever be for a Gold Cup. Their backs will be against the wall, but they still have talent all over the roster that can compete with any team in this competition. “Cubo” Torres of the Houston Dynamo was a late call up and a young talent to join up with the National Team. Pachuca hitman Erick Gutierrez will be looking in to bang the goals for El Tri as well as Mexico will be packing the attacking power for the tournament. An animal is at it’s most dangerous when it’s cornered, and Mexico seem ready to break out of the circle that the world has begun to hang over them. Their slaughtering at the hands of Chile at last year’s Copa America, and their demise against Germany at last month’s Confederation’s Cup has Mexico beaten and humiliated recently. The best way to quiet the doubters and convince the masses is to march to Santa Clara and to lift the Cup for an 8th time, proclaiming their dominance over the region. I think they very well can and very well will, their team is full of young attacking talent. They’ll be filled with confidence and will look to win it for Osorio, Mexico will win The Gold Cup again.