Costa Rica Sports News – The 13th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup will begin on Tuesday, and the US has an opportunity to secure its sixth title, which would match the Americans with Mexico for the most ever.
There are three groups of four teams, and the top two from each group advance, while the top two teams finishing in third place also advance.
Let’s breakdown each team in each group, and hand out predictions and much more.
Group A: United States, Honduras, Panama, Haiti
United States: The clear favorites to win the tournament, the US is riding high entering the competition. The USMNT looked potent in attack in the 4-0 friendly victory against Guatemala on Friday. Brad Guzan is more than capable of leading the United States in goal with Tim Howard taking a break from the team, and DeAndre Yedlin looks like a future star on the wing with his speed and touch.
The backline concerns remain, but the US has been working to correct those issues and build confidence. No reason to believe the US won’t coast in this group, especially if Jozy Altidore finds his form. USMNT fans are expecting a trophy, but can anyone in this tournament produce as nice a strike as Timmy Chandler did on Friday?
Honduras: One of the stronger teams in the tournament, keep an eye on talented midfielder Andy Najar, a former member of DC United and now with Belgian giants Anderlecht. This squad has some talent, is physical and has speed on the wings. Young forward Anthony Lozano is one of the bright young players to watch on the team. At 22, he has 27 goals in 62 games for Olimpia.
Panama: The baseball nation has improved greatly in soccer over recent years, much like Venezuela has in South America. The team’s strength is in attack with veterans Blas Perez and Luis Tejada, but Perez, 34, and Tejada, 33, are probably past their prime. But in a competition that doesn’t have the highest of quality of teams to play against, they can still make an impact. Expect Panama to be in contention for a quarterfinal spot. The country has made two Gold Cup finals in the last 10 years and knows what it takes to succeed in this cup.
Haiti: Minnows of the region, nobody expects Haiti to get a point out of this competition. The squad is young and hungry for a good showing, and maybe, just maybe, they can get a point from the Panama game. But it’s not likely.
Predicted finish: 1. US (9 points), 2. Honduras (6 points), 3. Panama (3 points), 4. Haiti (0 points)
Group B: Costa Rica, Jamaica, El Salvador and Canada
Costa Rica: One of the favorites to win the competition after last’s years World Cup run, they will be without star goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who plays for Real Madrid. The former Levante star is dealing with an lower leg injury, so the team will likely look to Patrick Pemberton behind the net. Where Costa Rica is the strongest is in attack, with Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Alvaro Saborio. Los Ticos shouldn’t have a problem winning at least two games in this group and advancing.
Jamaica: The days of Jamaica contending for a spot in the World Cup seem like ages ago. The team finished third in this competition in 1993 and fourth in 1998, but have struggled to do much of anything since. Always fast, Jamaica lacks the technical skill and ability up top to really threaten. But in a group with weak teams like El Salvador and Canada, anything can happen.
El Salvador: Long gone are the days of contending for El Salvador, it seems. The team has had trouble producing quality talent and has fallen way behind the region’s top teams. The Salvadorans have some skill in the middle of the pitch but are inexperienced up top, aside from forward Rafael Burgos. The team has a young backline that will be tested, but the team has to feel good about its chances of escaping a weak group.
Canada: Sharing the hosting duties with the United States, Canada is the only nation outside of Mexico and US to win this tournament. The team is pretty weak, which has been the case for years, but it lands in a fairly easy group with the potential to escape. Spanish coach Benito Floro will count heavily on striker Tosaint Ricketts. The quick attacker is one of the more talented players on the team and will have to be in fine form in the final third for the team to have a chance of advancing.
Predicted finish: 1. Costa Rica (7 points), 2. Canada (4 points), 3. El Salvador (4 points), 4. Jamaica (2 points)
Group C: Mexico, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala
Mexico: No Hector Moreno and no Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez could mean big trouble for Mexico. They’re a lock to advance out of the group stage with little trouble, but what about when we get to the knockout stage? Can Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela provide enough spark in the attack? Most importantly, will they be able to finish their chances? Losing Chicharito hurts, as he is the star and top forward on the team. Mexico is deep, confident and talented, but production must come from Vela and Dos Santos up top, or else it could be an early exit.
Cuba: A baseball nation that has earned the respect of other countries in recent editions, Cuba could surprise a few in this tournament. The team works as a unit, but isn’t tested often. All of Cuba’s players, as one would expect, play professionally in Cuba. To say the Cuban league is strong is like calling the Moldova national team a European power. They are a bit of a mystery, have tons of speed along with athleticism and hope to spring a surprise or two in this cup.
Trinidad and Tobago: The Soca Warriors should feel good about finishing second in this group, but recent form raises concerns. The team lost to Panama in a March friendly and didn’t look sharp in attack, failing to create enough quality chances to strike. The team is really young, and Chicago Fire midfielder Joevin Jones must provide an outlet forward from the left side of the midfield. T and T should be able to beat Guatemala and Cuba, but a slip-up against either could mean no quarterfinals.
Guatemala: The team showed some attacking ability in the friendly loss to US, but at the back the guys seem wreckless and out of sync. Guatemala has some ability down the left, and goalkeeper Paulo Motta can keep his nation in the game, but there isn’t likely enough in the final third to get Guatemala out of the group.
Predicted finish: 1. Mexico (7 points), 2. Trindad and Tobago (5 points), 3. Guatemala (2 points), 4. Cuba (1 point).
Note: We predict El Salvador and Panama to advance as the top two third-place teams.
Group stage schedule (all times ET)
Tuesday, July 7
Panama vs. Haiti, 7 p.m. (FS2)
USA vs. Honduras, 9:30 p.m. (FS1)
Wednesday, July 8
Costa Rica vs. Jamaica, 8 p.m. (FS2)
El Salvador vs. Canada, 10:30 p.m. (FS2)
Thursday, July 9
Trinidad and Tobago vs. Guatemala, 7 p.m. (FS2)
Mexico vs. Cuba, 9:30 p.m. (FS1)
Friday, July 10
Honduras vs. Panama, 6 p.m. (FS2)
USA vs. Haiti, 8:30 p.m. (FS1)
Saturday, July 11
Jamaica vs. Canada, 6:30 p.m. (FS2)
Costa Rica vs. El Salvador, 9 p.m. (FS2)
Sunday, July 12
Trinidad and Tobago vs. Cuba, 6:30 p.m. (FS2)
Guatemala vs. Mexico, 9 p.m. (FS2)
Monday, July 13
Haiti vs. Honduras, 7 p.m. (FS1)
Panama vs. USA, 9:30 p.m. (FS1)
Tuesday, July 14
Jamaica vs. El Salvador, 6 p.m. (FS1)
Canada vs. Costa Rica, 8:30 p.m. (FS1)
Wednesday, July 15
Cuba vs. Guatemala, 6 p.m. (FS2)
Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago, 8:30 p.m. (FS2)
Note: The quarterfinals will be played on July 18 and 19, the semifinals are on July 22, the third place match is July 25 and the final on July 26.
By Roger Gonzalez | Soccer Writer, CBS Sports