The group stages are behind us in CONCACAF’s regional tournament. The field of 12 have slimmed down to 8 as each team was matched up with an opponent for the Quarterfinals. The rest of the tournament will consist of a single elimination knockout format. Lose and go home. The knockout stages begin today, so this is The Early Sub’s predictions for the Quarterfinals.
Costa Rica vs. Panama
Now this is a match. The Central American rivals will go toe to toe in the first knockout stage as these two teams that currently dwell in “The Hex” will face off for a spot in the Semifinals. Costa Rica currently sit in 2nd in the final round of 6 in World Cup Qualifying. These 6 (also known as The Hex) also contain the likes of Panama who sit in 4th. Only 4 games are left in qualifying, and Panama hang right on the edge, they need to beat Costa Rica here to gain confidence going forward, into the qualifying matches in September. Panama will also be looking to match their performance of the 2015 Gold Cup when they had lost in the Semifinals. A trip to the Semis would be a successful tournament for Panama, who’ve put on more then decent performances. They come into the knockout stages, unbeaten, with their only slip being a draw to the United States in the opening group games. They are a side that certainly deserve to be at this stage of the competition, but Costa Rica will be a tall order. Panama’s eternal rivals are known as one of CONCACAF’s heavyweights, since their Quarterfinal appearance at World Cup Brazil in 2014. They’re the 2nd highest ranked nation in CONCACAF (North America and the Caribbean’s regional confederation) by FIFA, even higher then the United States. Los Ticos boast plenty of talent, including players who play in some of Europe’s top leagues like: Arsenal’s Joel Campbell and Sporting Clube de Portugal’s Bryan Ruiz. This Costa Rican side is loaded, and just seem like too much of a match for their rivals. Costa Rica will win this one. Costa Rica 2 Panama 1
United States vs. El Salvador
After, almost sleepwalking through the group stages, the United States come in making plenty of roster changes as the going is about to get tough. The Yanks’ first test in the knockout stages come in the form of El Salvador, who gave Mexico quite the workout in the first half of their group stage game. Don’t underestimate Los Cuscatlecos, after their defeat to Mexico, they ripped Caribbean champions Curacao apart. They also managed to grind out a draw to 2015 Gold Cup Runners Up, Jamaica. The small central American nation have put up a fight at this Gold Cup, and will be looking to score an upset and hand the United States their earliest exit in Gold Cup history. Quite frankly, it’ll be doubtful, Bruce Arena has the Americans back on track since the mess of Klinsmann. Arena has also proven to show the quality it takes to rip this trophy from the grip of the Mexicans. He was experimenting with difference pieces and players who’ve been in top form of MLS. The likes of Dempsey and Bradley are back however, and the seasoned vets and leaders of this team will be looking to lead the Stars and Stripes back to the top of the region. They’ll need it too, the United States were pitiful in 2015, losing to Jamaica in the Semifinals and later to Panama in the 3rd place game. A 4th place finish is unacceptable for a country that’s supposed to be the flag bearers of the region. The draw to Panama, and the late victory over Martinique were very alarming for Arena and co. But the 3-0 decimation of Nicaragua made every American feel more at ease, as Arena looks to use more familiar pieces in his lineup for the knockout stages. The Quarterfinals should be a much more relaxing, and calming experience for every American out there. But not until after an early El Salvador goal. United States 3 El Salvador 1
Canada vs. Jamaica
Quite honestly, I’m really looking forward to seeing this match. Just because Alphonso Davies has been a monster at this Gold Cup. The Vancouver Whitecaps winger was showcasing his pace and power over the likes of French Guiana and Costa Rica where he scored 3 goals in 2 games. Oh, and have I mentioned he’s only 16. This kid is scoring his first, senior international goals, at the same time he’s taking his mom’s car out for a spin for the first time. An absolute talent, and now Canada have called up Orlando City striker Cyle Larin to lead the front line. Two of MLS’ youngest and brightest stars will connect, as they embark on a mission to bring Canada their 2nd ever Gold Cup and 1st since 2000. Jamaica is a stiff test, but my annoying raving of Davies is necessary, because this kid has the potential to rip the Reggae Boyz apart. The downside for the Canadians, is they’ve proven to be leaky at the back, allowing 2 goals to French Guiana and another to Costa Rica. Another issue, which Larin will be looking to fix, is without Davies Canada can’t get any goals. He fired in 2 of Canada’s 4 goals against French Guiana, and slotting in their only goal against Costa Rica. They were held scoreless by Honduras, so it’ll be interesting to see where else Canada can get their goals from. Jamaica on the other hand, are still unbeaten, and were able to draw Mexico in the group stages. But Jamaica have looked rather flat throughout this Gold Cup, and haven’t seemed to play up to their potential. Full of pace and athleticism, Jamaica earned two draws and only one win, over Curacao. And even in that Curacao game, Jamaica were so flat and unimaginative in the first half, only resorting to sideways and backwards passing. Resorting to long balls that get headed clear by any wandering defender. They were fortunate to come out of halftime with a bit more desire when they topped their Caribbean rivals 2-0. Canada are dangerous, full of desire and motivation to perform, while Jamaica just really don’t in my eyes. Jamaica still have the ability to draw with Mexico, which is a feat in itself, but if they’re not careful, their Gold Cup could end right here. Canada 2 Jamaica 1 after Extra Time.
Mexico vs. Honduras
And perhaps the main event of these Quarterfinals (only because Mexico are always the Main Event). It’s El Tri and Los Catrachos in the Quarterfinals. Two bitter CONCACAF rivals who hold the distinction of reaching the World Cup. Both currently in The Hex with Mexico sitting atop the chase for Russia, and Honduras still fighting for a spot, sitting in 5th, one point behind Panama. Normally this would be a wondrous matchup, but it won’t be this time around. Mexico topped Group C with a breeze, topping El Salvador and Curacao by two goals and drawing with 2015 Runners Up, Jamaica. They’ve rightfully looked like the best team in the tournament, and there’s no sign of them stopping. Honduras on the other hand, have been dreadful. Failing to net a single goal in their three group stages, and only scoring a victory over French Guiana, due to Florent Malouda’s participation in their match. Their only upside has been their tight defense, that has only allowed one goal to Costa Rica’s Michael Urena in the very 2nd game of the entire tournament. Nothing has breached the Honduran goal since, and Mexico will have to work hard and be creative when piercing this defense, but I’m sure they’ll find a way in no time. Maybe within the first 20 minutes. Bye Bye Jorge Luis Pinto. My only hope is that Honduras at least nets a goal in this match. So I’ll be a bit generous to my Mother’s home nation. Mexico 3 Honduras 1