CONCACAF’s regional championship is just two and half weeks away and two teams are the clear favorites to take the Gold Cup and a coveted spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. Those two teams: the United States and Mexico.
These two teams are the deepest and most talented squads in the North and Central American region, but which is the favorite? Heading into the tournament – which starts in Dallas, TX June 5th – a poll would likely come out split. With that being the case, let’s take a look at each team.
Mexico took the last Gold Cup in an emphatic 5-0 win over the United States in 2009. Mexico fielded its top team in the first tournament that then head coach Javier Aguirre headed up. The team was led by Carlos Vela, Miguel Sabah (Golden Boot winner with four goals) and Giovanni Dos Santos (named tournament MVP) who caused havoc throughout the tournament, although only Dos Santos will return in 2011 to help lead El Tri.
Strengths: The clear strength of the team is the forward line of Giovanni Dos Santos (Racing Santander) and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (Manchester United). The Red Devil starlet could be the best player in the tournament and his ability to duplicate his emergence on the club level for El Tri could be the difference for El Tri in this summer’s classic.
Weaknesses: As the team is stocked up top, the questions arise as you get closer to the team’s own goal. Goalkeeper has been an up and down position for El Tri with one-time goalkeeper of the future Guillermo Ochoa (Club America) struggling to find his form since before last year’s World Cup. The defense is more of a possession builder than a physical stopper type of group and is susceptible to being beat by stronger teams.
Overview: The presence of Dos Santos and Hernandez has many people predicting a repeat for El Tri. Service from a midfield led by Andres Guardado (Deportivo La Coruna) should be good and if the team can hold possession they will be successful in repeating as champions.
Yanks are looking for Another Trip to Confederations Cup
The 2009 loss aside, the Americans have done well in CONCACAF the past five years. Last Gold Cup’s roster was filled with hopefuls and younger players, due to the team participating in the Confederations Cup after winning the 2007 event. Sure to field a full strength roster the Yanks are looking to book another spot in the next Confederations Cup, a tournament Bob Bradley is very high on.
Strength: Boasting the best collection of talent in both goal and midfield, Bob Bradley should feel good about his squad. Hernandez gets the headlines in CONCACAF but Everton ‘keeper Tim Howard is likely the best and most accomplished player in the region. The Toffees’ stalwart has been clutch for the Yanks – most notably against Argentina and Spain in recent years – and is a big reason the team is considered one of, if not the favorite this summer.
Bradley also enjoys the best collection of midfield talent, led by LA Galaxy and 2010 World Cup star Landon Donovan (who’s linked to a summer move to Italian side Roma) and Fulham’s leading scorer Clint Dempsey. The wingers provide service and dangerous runs in front of the talented central midfield trio of Jermaine Jones (Blackburn), Michael Bradley (Aston Villa) and Maurice Edu (Rangers).
Weakness: For all the depth in midfield, the Yanks are searching for answers on the backline and at forward. Age is catching up to Bradley’s group on the backline as stalwarts Carlos Bocanegra (St. Etienne) and Steve Cherundolo (Hanover ’96) are in their mid-30s and the team is looking for the next group to come through. The prime candidates are Tim Chandler (Nurnberg) and Eric Lichaj (Leeds United) but the depth in the back is unproven at best.
While their neighbors to the south seem set at forward for the next 10 years, the Yanks are still searching for their answers. Jozy Altidore (Bursaspor) is a young player with tons of experience but he’s yet to put together a truly dominant run of form at the club or international level. After Altidore there are a number of unknowns. 19 year old Juan Agudelo (Red Bull New York) has two goals in his brief national team career but will be in his first major tournament. Teal Bunbury – a Canadian convert – of Sporting KC is still not a lock for the squad and Charlie Davies (DC United) is just 10 games and six goals into his comeback season.
Overview: Top to bottom the Yanks are the best team in the region on paper, in my opinion, but will be carried by their goalkeeping and midfield play. If the team can find a scoring option at forward the Yanks should be well on their way to a return trip to the Confederations Cup.
Looking at the two favorites there’s a lot to like about both, but neither is without their concerns. Still, each team should make their expected run to the finale – to be played June 25th at the Rose Bowl – for what should be another in a long line of exciting matches between the regional powers.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com and is a contributor to Soccerlens.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.