Despite lacking star power, the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup will offer first-rate soccer drama.
National teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean will vie for regional supremacy this month, with CONCACAF’s most prestigious trophy and the chance to play for a spot in the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup at stake.
The United States will host the tournament, with the majority of the 25 games taking place at venues in the Southwest and West Coast. Nevertheless, soccer fans from around the country and beyond will watch intently.
Oddsmakers have installed defending champion Mexico and the United States as favorites. Neither team is bringing its strongest squad to the Gold Cup, but both should have enough quality to succeed. Costa Rica also has an outside shot of winning the CONCACAF championship for the first time since 1989.
The first phase of the Gold Cup is a round robin, with the 12 hopefuls drawn into three groups of four teams. The top two finishers from each group and the two best third-place teams will advance to the quarterfinals, when the tournament shifts to a single-elimination format.
The competition will begin Friday with a French Guiana vs. Canada and Costa Rica vs. Honduras doubleheader. The U.S. will open its tournament Saturday afternoon against Panama. The final will be held July 26 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Let’s take a look at the Gold Cup groups and make some predictions.
Group A: Canada, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Honduras
Costa Rica should edge Honduras for the top spot in this group but will find it . Canada must impress in its opener against French Guiana in order to boost its chances of advancing to the knockout round and give its fans something to smile about after years of frustration.
Group B: Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama, United States
The United States should cruise through this group, especially because Panama will be without forward Blas Perez and midfielder Roman Torres, who have been thorns in the U.S. side in years past. We expect Panama to finish second, with Martinique outlasting Nicaragua for third place.
Group C: Curaçao, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico
Here’s the so-called “group of death.” Mexico will win, but it might not be easy. Jamaica and Caribbean champion Curaçao (formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles) will offer stiff resistance and are good bets to finish second and third, respectively. But don’t expect El Salvador to finish with three losses.
Costa Rica over Panama, United States over Canada, Mexico over Martinique, Jamaica over Honduras
United States over Costa Rica, Mexico over Jamaica
United States over Mexico
Players to Watch
United States players will have their eyes on securing a spot on the 2018 FIFA World Cup squad. Expect Kellyn Acosta and Jorge Villafaña to cement themselves in the squad with fine performances in the knockout rounds.
Gyasi Zardes, 25, once was a key player for USA, but injury derailed his progress. The Gold Cup is his chance to convince USA coach Bruce Arena he’s back on track.
Having played 80 games for France, Flourent Malouda (remember him?) will play for French Guiana thanks to byzantine FIFA rules. The 37-year-old ex-Chelsea midfielder is far from his peak, but he could impact Gold Cup games in short bursts.
Mexico’s Eric “Cubo” Torres has a perfect opportunity to become a native hero. If he fires “El Tri” to victory, he could break into Mexico’s “A” squad ahead of World Cup 2018.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images