By Ross Kelly
The biennial event, governed by CONCACAF, returns this summer and will be played across 13 US cities (plus Toronto). The USMNT has dominated recent editions of the tournament with three wins (2005, 2007, 2013) and two runner-up finishes (2009, 2011) over the last five Cups. Though not as revered as the Euros or the Copa America; the Gold Cup is still the premier soccer tournament in North America and it must be won in order to represent CONCACAF in the Confederations Cup.
What’s New This Year?
The aforementioned Confederations Cup is held every four years with the next edition being in 2017. However, Gold Cups are held every two years dating back to 2003. Thus, starting in 2015, CONCACAF has announced that if different nations win in the two preceding Gold Cups (in this case 2013 and 2015), then there would be two teams qualified for the one CONCACAF spot. As a result, there will be a playoff between those two teams to decide which one will represent CONCACAF in the Confederations Cup.
Since the US won the Gold Cup in 2013, they are locked in as one of those playoff teams. Thus, they will either automatically qualify to the 2017 Confederations Cup by winning this year’s Gold Cup, or they will play the winner of this year’s tournament in a one-game playoff later this year. Previously the two Gold Cups before a Confederations Cup didn’t have equal weighting and one nation was always left out of the Confederations Cup despite winning the tournament (unless it was the same team that won both times).
Game 1: Tuesday, July 7 vs. Honduras (9:30 pm EST, Toyota Stadium in Dallas, TX)
Game 2: Friday, July 10 vs. Haiti (8:30 pm EST, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA)
Game 3: Monday, July 13 vs. Panama (9:30 pm EST, Sporting Park in Kansas City, KS)
Quarterfinals: July 18 (M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD) and July 19 (MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ)
Semifinals: July 22 (Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA)
Final: July 26 (Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA)
Unlike UEFA, CONCACAF doesn’t exactly go 20 deep in terms of world-class teams. There are only three teams in the field that have a FIFA ranking in the top 50. The USMNT is one of those and enters in ranked 27. They are the clear favorites to win Group A and rounding out the group are Panama (54), Honduras (75) and Haiti (76). The US should have no trouble advancing to the knockout rounds, but as we all know, the games aren’t played on paper. The biggest test within the group stage will likely come via Honduras who drew the USMNT 1-1 back in October. Over the past few years the US has struggled with Honduras and sport a 3-2-1 record vs. Los Catrachos since 2010.
Juergen Klinsmann opted for experience when choosing the team as 16 members of the World Cup team will suit up at the Gold Cup. The most glaring omission from the USMNT roster is GK Tim Howard which means the US is losing quite a bit of experience in net and the world is losing the human meme generator. Howard, who went on international hiatus following the 2014 World Cup, is expected to rejoin the team in September. That means Brad Guzan will get the call in net after serving as Howard’s backup for most of the past decade. His performance on a big stage will determine if he’s Howard’s long-term replacement as the starting GK.
Others To Watch
Outside of the US, the teams to watch are Mexico (ranked 23) and Costa Rica (ranked 14). Mexico, with six Gold Cup championships, is the only team who’s won more at this event than the US who has five. Costa Rica is currently playing at the highest level of football that the nation has ever seen thanks to a remarkable performance at the 2014 World Cup where they advanced to the quarterfinals before falling in penalty kicks to the Netherlands.
If the US, Mexico, and Costa Rica all perform as expected and each win their respective groups, then Mexico has the advantage as they would only have to play either the US or Costa Rica, not both. But the US does have the home field(s) advantage while Costa Rica is one of the hottest teams in the world. It should be an exciting tournament and a great way for soccer fans to enjoy the action without the presence of FIFA.