Photo by ISIPhotos.com
BY ADAM SERRANO
CONCACAF Olympic qualifying continues on Friday evening as Group B kicks off at the Home Depot Center. The action begins this evening at the Home Depot Center when Honduras faces Panama (9pm EDT/CONCACAF.com) and ends when Mexico takes on Trinidad and Tobago (11:30pm EDT).
Leading the group is a high-flying Mexico side that is eager to put last month's 2-0 defeat at the hands of the US behind them, while El Tri's biggest competitors for group supremacy will be Andy Najar's Honduras and an experienced Panama side that boasts several members of the Central American nation's senior team. Meanwhile, Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean's top side full out the group.
A potential date with the United States at LIVESTRONG Park in semifinal round looms for whomever advances from the group.
A closer look at Group B after the jump:
After failing to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Mexico look to ensure their ticket to the London games by bring a stacked squad to the HDC including 14 players, who are regular starters in the Mexican First Division. Head Coach Luis Fernando Tena's side also brings considerable international experience as a number of the players appeared in the 2011 Pan-American games as well as the 2011 U-20 World Cup.
Tena's selection will be led up front by Chivas de Guadalajara star Marco Fabian, who has quickly blossomed into one of Mexico's finest attacking options. Tena's group also includes California-born Miguel Angel Ponce, who has transitioned from left back to left wing with the Olympic squad.
But on a team full of stars, the most intriguing is Erick "El Cubo" Torres, who helped Mexico's U-20s earn a third place finish in last summer's U-20 World Cup in Colombia. Expected to begin the tournament on the bench, the 19-year-old Torres is considered one of Guadalajara's rising stars and with his speed and presence in the are has already drawn comparisons to Manchester United's Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.
DC United midfielder Andy Najar leads the charge for a Honduran U-23 group that is hoping to qualify for their second consecutive Olympics. Aside from Najar, the Honduran side is composed almost entirely of domestic based players.
The 19-year-old Najar is expected to lead an offense that includes European-based forwards Anthony Lozano, who is currently with Spanish side Alcoyano and Eddie Hernandez of Sweden's Hacken. Aside from their foreign-based attacking trio, Los Catrachos are a hard-working side that is without any real star power.
If Los Catrachos hope to advance to their second straight Olympics, a victory over Panama in the group opener is vital.
Considered the dark horse of the group, Panama bring an experienced group to the Olympic Qualifying tournament. Panama boast four players from last summer's Gold Cup semifinalists and seven from the side that fell to the US 1-0 in January in Panama City. Not only is head coach Julio Dely Valdes' side experienced internationally, but eight players play outside of their native country in leagues throughout the Americas.
Panama's lone MLS connection will be FC Dallas acquisition Carlos Rodriguez, who can play at either point along the left side. Acquired from Panamanian side Tauro, Rodriguez has already tallied one assist in his first appearance for FCD in their 2-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls two weeks ago.
While Rodriguez is a known quanity, Los Canaleros most intriuging player is Tigres UNAL U-20 midfielder Manuel Asprilla, a dynamic attacker, who has drawn comparisons to Tigres first teamer and Mexico's own Alan Pulido.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
The minnow of the group, the odds are stacked against head coach Angus Eve's young Trinidad and Tobago side, who must tame a rio of powers in order to reach the semi-finals.
T&T boasts a pair of players in MLS in defender Kevan George(Columbus Crew) and Cornell Cato (Seattle Sounders), but the key man for the young Soca Warriors is Orlando City SC midfielder Kevin Molino. Already an esablish member of the senior national team, the playmaker tallied a pair of goals as he helped lead the Lions to the USL Pro title last season.
Supporting Molino will be in-form striker Jamal Gay, who helped the Soca Warriors earn a 1-1 draw against mighty Mexico last October. For the Caribbean side to have hope of advancing out of Group B, they must find a way of duplicating their heroics from last fall and earn a result against Mexico in the opener.
Who will break out of Group B? Will Mexico roll to the top spot or can Honduras or Panama challenge them? Will the Soca Warriors shock all three?
Share your thoughts below.