2015 Gold Cup Journey…

by Luis Eduardo Flores

Group A (“Group of Death”):
 Panama
 Haiti
 Honduras

Why is Group A the “Group of Death”? The “Group of Death” isn’t only applicable to the FIFA World Cup.

For starters we have the 2013 Gold Cup Champions and the runner-ups, in this group. Hmmm. This looks like Group B from the 2014 FIFA World Cup; quite an interesting group. Not only, because of the USMNT and Panama. Honduras is the dark horse of this group. We can’t eliminate them potential group winners. They have made it to the semi-finals, in the last three Gold Cups.

Let’s be honest; in our minds we already eliminated Haiti. Regardless, we have seen underdogs give their opponents a run for their money (2014 World Cup: Australia vs. Netherlands). At the very least, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

At this point for the USMNT, the absence of Landon Donovan should not be contributing factor. What we want to know is if the USMNT can beat Panama. There is some heat between those teams. It was because of the USMNT (specifically Graham Zusi) that Panama did not qualify for the World Cup. Plus, the USMNT also beat Panama for the Gold Cup in 2013. Do the Canal Men hold a grudge against USMNT? Plus; will Clint Dempsey’s recent display of anger have an effect? His red card during the US Open Cup against the Portland Timbers might play a role in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting line-up on gameday. We’ll have to wait until July 13 to see the rematch in Sporting Park. Being co-host is not likely the biggest burden; rather being the champion competing from the ground up to retain the title and knowing that there’s more gold to compete for if they retain their title. That’s the real burden.

Group B:
 Costa Rica
 El Salvador
 Jamaica
 Canada

We have already crowned Costa Rica as the group winners. There is no denying that they are the group favorites. Let’s evaluate their recent performances, but first a quick look at 2014.
Last year Los Ticos played 14 games. Out of the 14 games, they lost one in regular time against Japan (2-6). Their other loss was in a penalty shootout against the Netherlands. For an underdog team, that was amazing.

Now, 2015 has not been full of sunshine and rainbows for los Ticos. They started the year off (March 26) in a draw against Paraguay. Their last three games ended up in losses to Panama (1-2), Colombia (1-0), and Spain (2-1). Costa Rica’s consolations to these three losses were the facts that these were away games, a one-goal difference, and they were friendly games. Costa Rica is already limping into the Gold Cup due to the lack of star power. Six players are out due to injury; including star goalie Keller Navas. Luckily for los Ticos, both forwards; Bryan Ruiz (Fulham) and Joel Campbell (Arsenal) are set to go.

2015 started slowly for Canada. Since March 27, Canada has been on a winning streak. Canada isn’t a CONCACAF powerhouse, but we shouldn’t count them out. In 2000 we saw Les Rouges eliminate the then reigning champions; Mexico. In the end, Les Rouges were crowned the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup Champions. Since then, Canada has yet to win championship gold. History doesn’t always have to repeat itself; in this case a championship drought.

Les Rouges, as hosts, they are obligated to advance to the next round. We all know that it’s shameful to be eliminated from a competition in front of a home crowd during the group stage (ex: 2010 South Africa).

Group C (The Easy Group):
 Mexico
 Guatemala
 Trinidad & Tobago
 Cuba

Just like Costa Rica, Mexico has already been labeled as the group winners.

El Tri should be thankful for not being in Group A. In these last six tournaments, El Tri was in each respective Group A (2010 World Cup, 2011 Gold Cup, 2013 Confederations Cup, and the 2014 World Cup).

El Tri started 2015 with a 1-0 victory over Ecuador. Up to this date, El Tri’s 2015 journey has been good. Their 3-3-3 record isn’t the best but remember; they are competing in two back-to-back tournaments. Their worse loss was against their bitter rivals; the “Stars and Stripes” (0-2). El Tri’s loss to Brazil wasn’t terrible; regardless the team’s focus in on winning championship gold. These friendly matches are important for preparing the team for competition.

In their first match in the 2015 Copa America, it was expected for El Tri to get the win over Bolivia. To everyone’s surprise, the game ended in a 0-0. El Tri walked away with only a point in what should have been an easy victory. In their next match, they brought their A-game against the host. Their match against la Roja was literally back and forth.

The draw wasn’t the surprise, the fact that El Tri was able to score three times against one of the favorites to win the tournament speaks volumes. El Tri put themselves on the radar as potential contenders for the title. In their 3rd match and final match in the Copa America, El Tri faced La Tri. The Mexican B-squad put up a solid fight against Ecuador, but in the end they were unable to mustard out the equalizer and settled for 1-2 loss. This was sweet revenge for los Amarillos after their earlier confrontation. El Tri’s Copa America journey ended with a draw, win, and loss.

Regardless of how Mexico performed in the Copa America, Coach Miguel Herrera has made it clear that the CONCACAF Gold Cup is the priority. To avoid a crash and burn situation, Javier Hernandez must not be the focal point of the offense; must less the whole team. Herrera saved his best players for the Gold Cup. We have yet to see Ochoa (goalie), Hector Moreno (defender), or Carlos Vela (forward); just to name a few. Given Andres Guardado’s long time experience and contribution to the team; he is more than worthy to wear the captain’s armband.
As for the Soca Warriors, they haven’t been doing all too good. Recently, the Soca Warriors visited the Hassan International Stadium to take on Jordan. Their 0-3 loss to Jordan pretty much says that they’re not ready for the Gold Cup. The reality is that Trinidad & Tobago and will be competing for 3rd place alongside.

La Furia Azul might end up claiming the runner-up spot in the group. Their biggest challenge will be El Tri. Back in March, El Tri handed a 0-3 loss to Guatemala. For the sake of the team, their MLS stars (Marco Pappa-Seattle Sounders, Moises Hernandez-FC Dallas, and Elias Vaquez-Real Salt Lake) add more power to the domestic squad.

The title of CONCACAF Gold Cup Champions isn’t the only prize on the line. A trip to Russia for the FIFA Confederations Cup will be the next goal.

Score Predictions:
 Group A
o Panama 3 – Haiti 0
o USMNT 2 – Honduras 0
o Honduras 1 – Panama 2
o USMNT 5 – Haiti 0
o Haiti 0 – Honduras 2
o Panama 1 – USMNT 2
 Group B
o Costa Rica 2 – Jamaica 0
o El Salvador 0 – Canada 2
o Jamaica 0 – Canada 2
o Costa Rica 2 – El Salvador 1
o Jamaica 1 – El Salvador 1
o Canada 1 – Costa Rica 1
 Group C
o Trinidad & Tobago 1 – Guatemala 2
o Mexico 5 – Cuba 0
o Trinidad & Tobago 1 – Cuba 1
o Guatemala 1 – Mexico 3
o Cuba 0 – Guatemala 2
o Mexico 5 – Trinidad & Tobago 0

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