In 2013, the last time CONCACF held it’s biannual continental competition, the US national team was placed in the easiest of three groups, and capitalized on said fortune by lifting the Gold Cup trophy at the end of July. Fast forward four years, and it’s the USMNT’s biggest rival for CONCACAF dominance, Mexico, that look to be the beneficiaries of the 2015 Gold Cup’s weakest four-team group.
Mexico look to be runaway favorites at the top of Group C, but it’s anyone’s guess who’ll come second and who’ll challenge for a place in the quarterfinals as one of two third-place finishers in the group stage. Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago are the favorites to finish two-three (in either order), while Cuba are once again the great unknown looking to upset the apple cart.
“Injuries” is the (unfortunate) word of the week for Mexico, who in the last five days have lost their best defender, Hector Moreno, and assumed starting forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez for the rest of the summer. The pressure is now on Diego Reyes, Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar to step up at the back, and Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta to shoulder the scoring load. Even without Moreno and Hernandez, this is a team capable of advancing to the final in Philadelphia, but losses that significant levels the playing field for any potential showdown with the US national team.
Best Gold Cup finish: Winners (9 times) — 1965, 1971, 1977, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2001
Manager: Miguel Herrera — Up until his side’s current seven-game winless streak, El Tri‘s demonstrative leader has enjoyed a successful and drama-less two years as head coach of Mexico, which culminated with a near-quarterfinal berth at last summer’s World Cup. This is his first crack at the Gold Cup and a real chance to win some silverware.
Star man: Carlos Vela — The Real Sociedad winger is coming off of a somewhat disappointing club season (10 goals in 32 games, down from 21 in 52 the season before), but no matter his club form, Vela always seems to bring it for Mexico. With no more than a handful of national team caps since 2010 (various issues with the national federation and/or head coaches), this is his time to shine and stake claim to his place in the team for the rest of his career.
While a great deal of Guatemala’s talented roster plays its club ball in the relatively unknown Guatemalan league, we all know the names of Carlos Ruiz and Marco Pappa, and we’re quickly getting to know Real Salt Lake’s Elias Vasquez, as well. Nearly the entire midfield plays for the same team, Guatemalan giant Comunicaciones, so Ivan Sopegno’s side will lean heavily on that familiarity and continuity in a group where they’re 50-50 alongside Trinidad and Tobago to come second behind Mexico.
Best Gold Cup finish: Winners — 1967
Manager: Ivan Sopegno
Star man: Marco Pappa — Ruiz is 35 years old now, and while he’ll still have something to say of Guatemala’s chances this summer, it’s Pappa time to shine and lead La Furia Azul out of the group and into their third quarterfinal in eight years.
Trinidad and Tobago
Interestingly enough, Stephen Hart’s roster contains not a single player over the age of 30 (four players are 30, two of which are goalkeepers), though there’s ample international experience within — CONCACAF experience, in particular. 23-year-old winger Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire) is 23 years old, but boasts of 40 senior caps already, while 24-year-old center back Daneil Cyrus has 41 appearances to his name. The Soca Warriors look set to be strong defensively, but could struggle for goals of their own, as only Kenwyne Jones (18) has more than six international goals to his name.
Best Gold Cup finish: Runners-up — 1973
Manager: Stephen Hart
Star man: Kenwyne Jones — The 30-year-old is still kicking around the upper tiers of England following moves from Cardiff City to Bournemouth upon leaving Stoke City. Jones bagged a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, where T&T bowed out to Mexico in the quarterfinals.
Speaking of sides with a dearth of goalscoring prowess, last up we have Cuba. Raul Gonzalez Triana’s side is by far the most inexperienced and accomplished side in this year’s tournament. In 2013, we saw the Leones del Caribe advance out of the group stage by virtue of finishing third, before getting hammered by Panama in the quarters.
Best Gold Cup finish: 4th — 1971
Manager: Raul Gonzalez Triana
Star man: Ariel Martinez — 11 goals in 50 appearances for Cuba gives Martinez the best strike rate on the current roster, and the 29-year-old will need to replicate his hat-trick form of 2013 if Cuba have any hopes of advancing this time around.
July 9: Trinidad and Tobago vs. Guatemala — Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
July 9: Mexico vs. Cuba — Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
July 12: Trinidad and Tobago vs. Cuba — University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
July 12: Guatemala vs. Mexico — University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
July 15: Cuba vs. Guatemala — Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
July 15: Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago — Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
1st — Mexico
2nd — Guatemala
3rd — Trinidad and Tobago
4th — Cuba