By IVES GALARCEP
It might seem like much longer, but it has been six year since the U.S. Men’s National Team lifted the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the last time. Six years since Benny Feilhaber’s dream strike helped beat Mexico and give the U.S. their fourth Gold Cup trophy, doing so in Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Americans have a chance to repeat that magical moment, and do so at the very same stadium of their last Gold Cup triumph, this summer in a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup that will be very wide open.
The tournament kicks off today, with two-time defending champion Mexico starting things off tonight. Mexico has sent a B team to the tournament after having its first-choice players take part in June World Cup qualifiers as well as the Confederations Cup. Some disappointing pre-tournament results have the Mexicans looking very much like an incomplete team that will struggle to match the dominance of the past two ‘El Tri’ Gold Cup teams, title winners in 2009 and 2011.
With Mexico’s team looking weaker than ever, the U.S. enters this tournament as favorites. Led by multiple-time Gold Cup winners Landon Donovan, Damarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu, the Americans enter this Gold Cup as favorites, even though this is going to be arguably the toughest tournament to predict in the Gold Cup’s 22-year history.
Will we see the USA and Mexico meet again in the final for the fourth straight time, and sixth time in the tournament’s history? That remains a very real possibility, but teams like Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica will look to play the role of spoiler as they try to break up the Gold Cup dominance the U.S. and Mexico have enjoyed, with one of the two accounting for the past six, and 10 of all 11 Gold Cup titles.
Panama and Costa Rica both bring in teams with plenty of experience, while Honduras features a B team with some quality in the attack. The field also has its underdogs, with Belize, Martinique and Cuba playing the roles of dark horse.
Here is a closer look at the tournament, which begins today:
2013 CONCACAF GOLD CUP
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
Today: Canada vs. Martinique (Fox Soccer Channel) 5:30pm
Today: Mexico vs. Panama (Fox Soccer Channel) 8pm
CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
Thursday: Panama vs. Martinique (Fox Soccer Channel) 8:30pm
Thursday: Mexico vs. Canada (Fox Soccer Channel) 11pm
Sports Authority Field, Denver, Colorado
July 14: Martinique vs. Mexico (Fox Soccer Channel) 3:30pm
July 14: Panama vs. Canada (Fox Soccer Channel) 6pm
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Marco Fabian, Raul Jimenez, Darvin Chavez, Jonathan Orozco
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Mexico has won the Gold Cup a record six times, including the past two tournaments.
OUTLOOK: Questions abound regarding the make-up of the team, including the sturdiness of the defense. Monterrey defender Darvin Chavez will look to anchor the back-line while Monterrey goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco will need to play very well if ‘El Tri’ will have a chance to three-peat. Winning its group should be a reasonable goal, but it is tough to see this Mexico team beating a more experienced U.S. team.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Blas Perez, Felipe Baloy, Roman Torres, Jaime Penedo
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: The Canaleros have reached the knockout rounds in four of the past five tournaments, and were eliminated by the Americans in each of those occasions. That includes a penalty kick shootout loss in the 2005 Gold Cup final.
OUTLOOK: Panama has brought a veteran team to the Gold Cup, a surprising development considering the squad’s top players were also involved in the June World Cup qualifiers. With a defense among the best in the tournament, and the deadly scoring of Blas Perez, Panama is a very safe bet for the quarterfinals, and could absolutely make a deep run in the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Will Johnson, Russell Teibert, Simeon Jackson, Julian De Guzman.
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Won the 2000 Gold Cup, but most recently failed to advance past the group stage of the 2011 tournament.
OUTLOOK: The Canada roster was built with an eye toward qualifying for the 2018 World Cup so there are some veterans missing, but with MLS standouts Will Johnson and Russell Teibert leading the midfield, and Simeon Jackson and Toisant Ricketts leading the forward line, Canada has the talent to reach the quarterfinals.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Freddie Piquionne, Kevin Parsemain, Jordi Delem, Nicolas Zaire
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Making their fourth overall Gold Cup appearance, but first since 2003.
OUTLOOK: One of the tournament underdogs, Martinique has some offensive firepower, with Piquionne and Parsemain, but it’s tough to see them surviving a group with Mexico, Panama and Canada. Look for some goals, but not much else.
Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
Monday: El Salvador vs. Trinidad & Tobago (Fox Soccer Channel) 7pm
Monday: Haiti vs. Honduras (Fox Soccer Channel) 9:30pm
Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Florida
July 12: Trinidad & Tobago vs. Haiti (Fox Soccer Channel) 7pm
July 12: Honduras vs. El Salvador (Fox Soccer Channel) 9:30pm
BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas
July 15: El Salvador vs. Haiti (Fox Soccer Channel) 7pm
July 15: Honduras vs. Trinidad & Tobago (Fox Soccer Channel) 9:30pm
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Andy Najar, Mario Martinez, Marvin Chavez, Jerry Palacios
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: A semifinalist in three of the past four Gold Cups, losing in the 2011 semifinals to eventual champion Mexico.
OUTLOOK: The Catrachos have brought a B team to the Gold Cup, but there is plenty of talent to make some noise, and win Group B. The contingent of current and former MLS attackers, including Najar, Martinez and Chavez, should make the Honduran midfield one of the toughest in the tournament, while the defense has some solid pieces. Another run to the semifinals is well within reach.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kenwyne Jones, Khaleem Hyland, Keon Daniel, Carlos Edwards
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Having last appeared in a Gold Cup in 2007, the ‘Soca Warriors’ are back and will have aspirations of matching their best-ever tournament finish, a semifinal place in the 200o Gold Cup.
OUTLOOK: Trinidad & Tobago come in with a team capable of reaching the knockout round, but probably not much else. Jones is one of the best players in the tournament, but the T&T midfield needs to provide him service. If Hyland and Daniel can set up the chances, T&T should be able to reach the quarterfinals.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jean Philippe Peguero, Peterson Joseph, Mechak Jerome, Jean Eudes Maurice
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: The Haitians are back after missing the 2011 tournament. Prior to that they reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals, due in part to a draw vs. the U.S.
OUTLOOK: The Haitians are a sleeper pick to finish second in this group, with a decent defense and some dangerous attacking pieces. The strike force of Maurice and Peguero will be key to Haiti’s chances of fending off El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago for second place.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jaime Alas, Rafael Burgos, Darwin Ceren, Jose Gutierrez
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals in 2011, losing to Panama in penalty kicks.
OUTLOOK: A team with some good attacking talent, El Salvador should pose a real challenge for the second-place spot in this Group B. Jaime Alas is a name U.S. fans should remember (he scored the goal that knocked the U.S. out of Olympic qualifying) while Burgos is a qualify forward. The El Salvador defense is what will likely keep them from really challenging Honduras for the top spot in Group B, but a place in the quarterfinals is within reach.
Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Oregon
Tuesday: Costa Rica vs. Cuba (Fox Soccer Channel) 8:30pm
Tuesday: Belize vs. United States (Fox Soccer Channel) 11pm
Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
July 13: United States vs. Cuba (Fox) 3:30pm
July 13: Costa Rica vs. Belize (Fox Soccer Channel) 6pm
Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Connecticut
July 16: Cuba vs. Belize (Fox Soccer Channel) 5:30pm
July 16: United States vs. Costa Rica (Fox Soccer Channel) 8pm
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden, DaMarcus Beasley, Herculez Gomez
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: The Americans have won the tournament four times, most recently in 2007, while reaching the final in each of the past Gold Cups.
OUTLOOK: With Donovan, Gomez and Holden leading the attack, and Beasley captaining the defense, the Americans have a squad capable of rolling to a title. If the U.S. centerbacks can play well, the U.S. should be able win back the Gold Cup.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Alvaro Saborio, Celso Borges, Jairo Arrieta, Rodney Wallace
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: The Ticos reached the 2002 Gold Cup final, losing to the U.S. They fell in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Gold Cup, losing to Honduras in penalty kicks.
OUTLOOK: Not quite a full B team, this Costa Rica side features several key first-team players. With Saborio and Arrieta leading the attack, and Borges anchoring the midfield, Costa Rica should finish second in the group, and be a real tough test for someone in the quarterfinals. A place in the semifinals is definitely within reach.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Alberto Gomez, Odelin Molina, Jaime Colome, Jenier Marquez
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Making their seventh appearance, but coming off a brutal showing at the 2011 Gold Cup, where they lost all three matches by a combined score of 16-1.
OUTLOOK: The reigning Caribbean Cup champions are an unknown quantity, but their triumph to qualify for the Gold Cup suggest the Cubans are a team on the rise. Alberto Gomez remains a goal threat, but the Cubans will find it difficult dealing with the midfields of the U.S. and Costa Rica. That said, a win vs. Belize could earn the Cubans a place in the quarters, assuming they avoid being blown out in their other matches.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Deon McCauley, Dalton Eiley, Ian Gaynair, Harrison Roches
TOURNAMENT HISTORY: This is Belize’s first Gold Cup.
OUTLOOK: A major underdog in the tournament, Belize qualified after finishing fourth in the Copa Centroamericano. McCauley is a capable goal scorer, but Belize will find it tough going in this group, especially given they open vs. the U.S. on Tuesday in Portland.