2015 Gold Cup – Group A preview: USMNT favorites over Honduras, Panama, Haiti

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The 2015 Gold Cup is just a few days from kicking off, and although the entire country is wrapped up in the women’s World Cup and the USA’s quest to win a third title, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is about to take center stage.

There is plenty at stake this summer, with the team crowned champions of the CONCACAF region also sealing a spot at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. With the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica all making the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup, expect this to be a three-way tussle for the title throughout the month of July. But there are plenty of other dark horses lurking in the shadows.

[ RELATED: Group B preview | Latest Gold Cup news ]

First up, let’s take a look at Group A which includes the host nation (USA! USA! USA!… sorry) the United States, plus Honduras, Panama and Haiti in what looks like the strongest group on paper with two teams who qualified for the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. and Honduras, squaring off first in Frisco.

USA

On home soil, the defending champions will fancy their chances of clinching a fourth title in their last seven tournaments. In face, the U.S. has reached the final in five-straight Gold Cups but with Mexico and Costa Rica pushing them all the way, this will be a severe test of their credentials. Huge friendly wins at Holland and Germany in the buildup to this tournament will have boosted the USMNT’s confidence but they are missing some key players like Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler and Jermaine Jones. That said, it will be a major disappointment if the U.S. don’t, at least, reach the final.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann – The German legend has managed to stamp his authority on the U.S. since he took over in 2011 and with a crop of youngsters balanced out with experience, Klinsmann is serious about defending the USA’s Gold Cup crown and clinching a spot at the Confederations Cup. He is fired up.
Star man: Michael Bradley – After being named skipper, the U.S. is looking to Bradley to be the main man in midfield and make those trademark driving runs at the heart of opposition defenses. When Bradley plays well, the U.S. plays well.

Honduras

Los Catrachos endured a disappointing World Cup campaign where they lost all three group games and went home with their tails between their legs. However, they have enjoyed plenty more success in the Gold Cup in recent seasons. In four of the last five tournaments Honduras has lost out in the semifinals so they will be hoping for a deep run and if they come flying out of the traps in their first game of the tournament against the U.S., they could shock the USMNT. Andy Najar and Boniek Garcia can run all day long and provide Honduras with quality on the ball. If you’re looking for a sleeper, Los Catrachos are your squad.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1981
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto – After coaching Costa Rica for three seasons, Pinto took over as Honduras’ boss in December 2014. However, it has been a rocky road so far with only two wins in eight matches in 2015. He badly needs a good Gold Cup.
Star man: Andy  Najar – The D.C. United Academy product has been ripping it up in Belgium for Anderlecht. Najar, still just 22, has 27 caps for Honduras and is said be attracting interest from top teams in Europe after his eye-catching displays in the UEFA Champions League.

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Andy Najar of Anderlecht and Honduras.

Panama

Fans of the U.S. national team know from past games against Los Canaleros just how tough they can be to break down. Brek Shea’s late goal in the 2013 final handed the Gold Cup to the U.S. after Panama withstood heavy pressure. With plenty of MLS talent on their squad — we’re looking at you Blas Perez, Gabriel Torres and Jamie Penedo — Panama will likely battle with Honduras for second spot in Group A but expect them to go into their final group game against the U.S. with a chance clinching top spot.

Best Gold Cup finish: Runners up – 2005, 2013
Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez – The former coach of the Colombian national team took charge of Panama in 2014, and he is still trying to figure out his best starting lineup ahead of the Gold Cup.
Star man: Blas Perez – The FC Dallas forward has the power and pace to cause plenty of problems, plus he is supremely cool finisher. When Perez gets hot, he is smoking.

Haiti

The true underdogs of this group, Haiti have reached the quarterfinals in recent tournaments and if their 2013 displays are anything to go by, they will be hard to break down. Les Grenadiers pushed Honduras and El Salvador hard in defeats, then beat Trinidad and Tobago in the group stages. Totally unknown quantity.

Best Gold Cup finish: Quarterfinals – 2002, 2009
Manager: Marc Collat – The experienced coach took charge in 2014 after a long career in France, Qatar and Mauritius among other stops.
Star man: Johnny Placide – The captain is likely to be pretty busy in goal, but the Reims goalkeeper impressed for the Ligue 1 outfit during the 2014-15 season as they survived in France’s top-flight.

Schedule

July 7: USA vs. Honduras – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
July 7: Panama vs. Haiti – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
July 10: Honduras vs. Panama – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
July 10: USA vs. Haiti – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
July 13: Haiti vs. Honduras – Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS
July 13: Panama vs. USA – Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS

Prediction

1st – USA
2nd – Honduras
3rd – Panama
4th – Haiti