With the Gold Cup starting Sunday with Costa Rica v. Cuba and Mexico v. El Salvador it’s time to take a look at the groups and peek at who are in line to earn the right to get to the knockout stages.
While the favorites in each group may be easy to point out – although group B is wide open – I’ll take a stab at picking who will be alive in the tournament June 18th for the Quarterfinals.
Group A: Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba
Favorite: Mexico and it’s not close. While Costa Rica could cause El Tri trouble in the group stage the Mexican contingent is the most talented, experienced and dangerous team in the group. With Chicharito and Gio Dos Santos leading the way, El Tri could use this tournament to reclaim dominance of CONCACAF and they’ll likely get little resistance in the group stage.
Best of the rest: Costa Rica is a talented bunch but a few notches below Mexico. With talented players like Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz leading the way the Ticos are a team that can attack with the best of them. If this was a home and away tournament they would be a tough out but away from home they’re not as effective.
Best player: Chicharito is the obvious choice. Depending on who you talk to he’s the most talented player from the region right now. A close second, in my opinion, is Ruiz.
Prediction: 1. Mexico 2. Costa Rica 3. El Salvador 4. Cuba
Group B: Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, Grenada
Favorite: Honduras is the running favorite but not by much. One of the most experienced teams in CONCACAF the Catrachos is a team that can beat you with technical ability and speed. Against better teams they have fared okay in recent years but failed to make their mark in South Africa last summer.
Best of the rest: This is a tough one. Jamaica and Guatemala both have positives and both have the ability to beat Honduras. Jamaica took a hit with Omar Cummings pulling out of the tournament so that will hurt their chances. Guatemala is not as talented but they have some good players including the ageless Carlos Ruiz and Marco Pappa. Making a choice, I’ll go with Jamaica.
Best player: Wilson Palacios is the likely best player in this group along with his teammate Emilo Izaguirre. Shalrie Joseph could have been a choice if he decided to play with Grenada but he and Cummings backing out of the tournament takes two good players out of the group.
Prediction: 1. Honduras 2. Jamaica 3. Guatemala 4. Grenada
Group C: USA, Canada, Panama, Guadeloupe
Favorite: Like Mexico in group A, the USA is by far the most talented team in group C. Even with some questionable roster decisions the USA is led by a talented pair of wingers in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and has the best goalkeeper in the region with Tim Howard between the pipes.
Best of the rest: This is Canada’s year to make a statement. A win in game one over the USA would obviously do that but taking care of business and qualifying second in the group would make a statement as well. With their best team in recent memory the Maple Leafs should take an automatic berth into the knockout stages.
Best player: This is a tie between Howard and Donovan. Donovan is the best field player and Howard the best goalkeeper. Simeon Jackson and Dwayne De Rosario have the ability to outplay anyone.
Prediction: 1. USA 2. Canada 3. Guadeloupe 4. Panama
With three groups and eight knockout stage spots two third place teams will make it. Here’s how I think it will shape up in the Quarterfinals:
Costa Rica (A runner-up) v. Jamaica (B runner-up)
Mexico (A winner) v. Guatemala (B third place)
USA (C winner) v. El Salvador (A third place)
Honduras (B winner) v. Canada (C runner-up)