The 13th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup kicks off next week across the United States. The top 12 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean will compete for regional glory as well as a spot in a playoff match with the United States for the right to represent CONCACAF at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. The CONCACAF region impressed at the 2014 World Cup and this year there are plenty of teams looking to prove themselves within this growing region.
The 12 teams are divided into three groups, with the top two teams in each group, and the two best third place teams advancing to the knockout rounds.
Group A: United States, Panama, Haiti, Honduras
This is about as competitive a group as you can find in CONCACAF. Panama finished as runners up in the 2013 Gold Cup and will be looking to repeat their magical run. Honduras on the other hand is a bit trickier, they qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil yet came as close as you possibly can to not qualifying for the 2015 Gold Cup which is simply astonishing.
This group is good enough to provide a challenge to the United States, but by challenge I mean play close competitive games that the U.S. will still win.
It would be shocking if the U.S. came away with less than nine points, but there is no way they pick up less then seven. Panama will finish as runner up with Honduras coming in third, though they should be good enough to get to the knockout round.
Group B: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Jamaica, Canada
If there was one team that surprised people more then anyone else at the 2014 World Cup and raised the clout of CONCACAF, it was Costa Rica. The Ticos escaped a group that featured 2010 semi-finalists Uruguay, as well as England and Italy. Jamaica has been impressive lately, but their depth is going to be tested as they just had a team participating in the Copa America during June. That could be enough to knock them back a place.
There has to be one surprise team that comes out of the group stage and I’m looking at Canada to make a little run and grab the runners-up spot behind Costa Rica, leaving Jamaica and El Salvador battling it out for third and hoping they advance.
Group C: Mexico, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba
In the least shocking news ever, everything seems to be going wrong lately for Mexico. As per usual, they’ve been struggling over the past year, and have struggled against CONCACAF opponents for the past few years, nearly missing out on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. To make matters worse, star striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez sustained a collarbone injury in Mexico’s warm up match vs. Honduras and has been ruled out of the tournament.
And yet I’m here to tell you that despite missing their star player, Mexico is still going to win their group. The biggest reason being that this is the easiest group I’ve ever seen. Another thing you have to remember is the loss of Chicharito is being way overblown by everyone.
While Hernandez is the biggest name in Mexico’s squad, don’t be so quick to forget Hernandez didn’t even start for Mexico at the 2014 World Cup. Without Hernandez on the team, Mexico played their best soccer over the past two years during the World Cup.
If you’re looking for a tournament that will serve up a bunch of upsets then the CONCACAF Gold Cup is not for you. In the 12 previous installments, the tournament has produced three winners: the United States, Mexico, and, oddly, Canada. To say it’s likely that the 13th edition will serve up similar results is a massive understatement.
The United States should be able to make it at least to the semi-finals in their sleep. They’ll then be able to move through the semi’s when they’re in that stage where they’ve woken up, but haven’t had their morning coffee yet. If the U.S. plays the way they’re capable of, then the final is likely to be their only test of the tournament.
There may be one quasi-upset though. Depending on how the bracket for the knockout round shapes up, if Costa Rica draws Mexico in the semi-finals look for the Ticos to be a little too much for the previously unchallenged Mexico to handle and earn themselves a final date with the Yanks. Of course, if Mexico avoids Costa Rica in the semi’s then it looks like we’ll be in for a classic U.S. vs. Mexico final.
The United States has made it clear their goal for this year is to win the Gold Cup and with all the strides this team has made over the past few years there’s no reason to doubt that Jurgen Klinsmann’s men will get it done; regardless of who their final opponent is.