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Tag:CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011
Posted on: June 25, 2011 10:14 am
 

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 Final - USA-Mexico III

This is what we've been waiting for. For the third time in as many tournaments, the USA and Mexico will meet in the Gold Cup final (Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA - 9PM EST - Fox Soccer Channel/Univision). To say that this final was expected is like saying my Dad's Powerball lotto ticket is going to lose this week. It's a shocker when this final doesn't happen (or when my Dad actually gets like $1 on ticket) but to say that the road these two teams took was a little rocky might be generous.

HOW WE GOT HERE: The USA struggled mightily in the group phase after a solid 2-0 win over Canada by losing 2-1 to Panama and beating Guadeloupe 1-0 in a game that was devoid of any finishing by the USA. But since those two games the USA has been much improved, stonewalling a red-hot Jamaica team 2-0 in the quarters before extracting revenge on a tough Panama squad 1-0 in the semis. Mexico on the other hand steamrolled to a 3-0 record in the group phase, but hasn't been at its best in the knockout rounds, giving up an early goal to Guatemala (a game they trailed 1-0 at the half) and needing extra time to find their finish touch in a 2-0 win over Honduras, who's probably the third best team in the region.

So does momentum mean anything going into this game? No, not in my opinion. Both teams are still playing well, they're both confident and this is a rivalry game. Neither of these teams like each other very much. Momentum and confidence and form go right out the window when the teams walk out onto the field.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

A trip to Brazil for the 2013 Confederations Cup, a World Cup tuneup that I covered in South Africa back in 2009. For those that remember, the USA beat Spain in the semis and led Brazil 2-0 and might have played the best three halves of soccer in USA history. And while success in the Confed Cup doesn't mean success in the World Cup, it is an oppurtunity to represent CONCACAF and play with the best in the world for a two weeks. That experience couldn't hurt.

THREE KEYS TO THE GAME: USA

[1] - Stop Javier Hernandez - Perhaps contain is a better word. Hernandez is a poacher, you don't want him with the ball anywhere near the 18 so he can shoot. Do I care if he makes a run down the wing, sure, but that means he's distributing the ball and not on the recieving end of a dangerous cross. The center of the US lines (Bradley, Jones, Bocanegra, Goodson) will have to be on top of their games and stay organized for all 90 minutes because one tiny mistake could be all it takes in this one.

[2] - Use the wings - The USA's best options for attack, especially if Bob Bradley is going to use a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1, are out wide. If you saw the USA's goal against Panama you'll know why. The US has always been best out wide in open space and when they struggled in the 4-4-2, they seemed content to go straight up the middle. Since that tactical change, the USA attack seems to be much more potent.

[3] - FINISH! - Mexico is not going to give up chances easily asn the USA has to put those chances on goal. Mexico lost thier top keeper Guillermo Ochoa to suspension along with four other players, forcing backup Alfredo Talavera into net for the last four games. While Talavera has been good, he's not as experienced in the international level and has just a total of five caps, four during this tournament.

THREE KEYS TO THE GAME: MEXICO

[1] - Patience - Mexico is going to have to break down the USA formation to generate chances. That means that most of them, especially in the latter stages of the game will be stuffed. But that shouldn't deflate anyone on the Mexico side, especially considering how tight Mexico has played in their last two matches.  

[2] - Don't get countered - The USA isn't exactly known for its counter play, but against Mexico, that might be their best option to score. Mexico has an attacking mentality and this might be the first team Mexico has played in this tournament to exploit the El Tri defense on the counter. This might mean marking the USA wingers, Dempsey and/or Donovan throughout the match if necessary.

[3] - ATTACK! - Mexico has played the last two games of the knockout stages in a very timid manner in my opinion. That is not their best football, but that 10 minute surge against Honduras in the first half of extra time was. Mexico is not a team that should be sitting back playing defense, even with a lead. They're best going forward and trying to extend their lead, not protecting it. And since the USA is known for slow starts, a quick goal to start things off is always a good thing.

REVENGE FACTOR

The USA won the last meaningful final between these two teams in 2007 and earned CONCACAF's last Confederations Cup berth. Mexico destroyed a "B" squad for the USA in the 2009 final, a 5-0 thrashing that pretty much everyone saw coming. I wouldn't say there is a revenge factor for this game, but the rivalry factor will be as high as the 2002 World Cup Round of 16 matchup. Niether team can get caught up in the moment and turn this game into a cardfest.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Eric Lichaj, USA, LB - Has Bob Bradley found the solution to the Yank's left-back problem?
Aldo de Negris, MEX, FW - Tremendous striker for El Tri that came off the bench and scored the equalizer agaisnt Guatemala and has four goals overall in the tournament.
Tim Howard, USA, GK - Best keeper in the region, the one true advantage the USA has today.
Javier Hernandez, MEX, FW - Might've heard of him, goes by Chicharito, plays for Man U, scores every game.
Jermaine Jones, USA, MF - Another pleasant suprise, a great pairing in central mid with Michael Bradely.

Category: Soccer
Posted on: June 18, 2011 3:30 pm
 

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 - Quarterfinal Preview

Of the four quarterfinal matchups this weekend I am confident in predicting only one winner, and those who have been following the tournament probably know who that is. Mexico is by far the favorite to win the tournament and there isn’t another team playing anywhere near the level the Group A champions displayed in the group phase.

With that said, let’s preview the weekend quarterfinal matchups…

SATURDAY, JUNE 18 – New Meadowlands Stadium, E. Rutherford, NJ
[A2-CRC] Costa Rica vs. Honduras [HON-B2]

The soccer gods are particularly cruel to these two teams in this matchup. These two sides battled it out for the third spot in “The Hex” for the 2010 World Cup with Honduras advancing and Costa Rica losing in a playoff to Uruguay. Both teams have been less than impressive so far in this tournament and both had identical results in the group phase by blowing out the fourth place team, drawing the third and losing to the winners, while finishing second over the third place team on GD.

I’d have to give a slight edge to Costa Rica here. All of Honduras’ seven goals in the tournament so far came against Grenada in a 7-1 blowout. Costa Rica hasn’t been impressive by any means, but they did score against Mexico in their last game while Honduras was shut out for second time in the Gold Cup by a reserve laden Jamaica squad. Don’t be surprised if this one gets chippy and makes it to extra time and/or penalties.

[A1-MEX] Mexico vs. Guatemala [GUA-B3] 

The only true mismatch of the quarterfinal stage in my opinion mainly because Mexico is on fire. Javier Hernandez can’t stop scoring and Guatemala doesn’t have the horses to stay with El Tri. With that said, Mexico needs to open the game up fast. If they allow Guatemala to hang around into the second half, Carlos Ruiz, Marco Pappa and the Guatemala attack might have just enough to punch home a goal. If Mexico gets out to an early lead and forces Guatemala to press more men forward, the counter attack will be wide open and this game could over after an hour.

SUNDAY, JUNE 19 – RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.
[B1-JAM] Jamaica vs. United States [USA-C2]

Another cruel matchup pits the streaking Reggae Boys of Jamaica against the USA. Jamaica rolled through a relatively weak Group B and its reward is a struggling USA side that slogged its way to a runner up finish in Group C. If the USA has their act together and shows up for all 90 minutes, this will be a great game I think. Lucky for the US, they’re hosting this tournament because if this game was in Jamaica tomorrow I don’t know if the USA wins it.

There are two keys to this game; First, how will the USA left match up against Dane Richards and the Jamaica 3-5-2 formation? Landon Donovan and the US left back (likely Steve Cherundolo) will have their hands full with the speedly NY Red Bulls winger and Donovan will also have to spend a lot more time up front, where he’s been MIA all tournament. If the USA can win this matchup, it will likely free up a ton of chances for Dempsey, Altidore and the rest of the USA but that brings me to the second key to the game…
 
Can the USA finish inside the 18? Somehow the USA defeated Guadeloupe on a thunderous strike from Jozy Altidore at the top of the box. But it’s the USA’s finishing inside the area that has been atrocious. I know Bob Bradley has been giving a lot of players looks up front at striker/forward due to lack of performance, but maybe it’s time to stick to one player next to Altidore up front.

[C1-PAN] Panama vs. El Salvador [SLV-A3]

This is another interesting matchup despite the differences in the two teams standing in their respective groups. El Salvador’s shining moment came in their near upset of Costa Rica, but a last minute equalizer by the Ticos meant that game finished in a draw. Panama pulled off a stunning upset of the USA, but have otherwise been largely unimpressive in my opinion.

Without sounding like a bitter USA fan, Panama was lucky to win Group C. They allowed Guadeloupe back into a game they were up 3-0, lucked out that the USA couldn’t buy another goal in the second half and got a last minute equalizer to draw and eliminate Canada. I still think that Panama’s striker duo of Perez and Tejada will be able to push the Red Tide into the semi-finals.

Posted on: June 14, 2011 8:28 am
Edited on: June 14, 2011 8:28 am
 

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 Group C Matchday 3

I'd like to thank the over 300 people who read my previous entry on the Gold Cup knockout scenarios. It's nice to know that you care.

Enough with the mushy stuff, I'm here to preview the final two games of the Gold Cup group stages and how the knockout scenarios have changed. Thanks to blowout victories, Guatemala has qualified and is the first third place team to qualify and El Salvador's big win over Cuba has evened their GD and put them on the brink of qualification. This changes Canada's gameplan going in, where instead of needing a draw, they now need a win since they're behind El Salvador in GD.

CANADA (1-0-1, 3 pts, -1GD) vs. PANAMA (2-0-0, 6 pts, +2)

Canada advances with a win over Panama OR a draw and a Guadeloupe win over USA.
Panama has advanced and will win the group with a WIN or DRAW.

Canada hasn't scored on the run of play in the tournament, despite playing almost the entire game against Guadeloupe with a man advantage. Their sole goal is a De Rosario penalty. There are two ways that this game will play out and it all depends on Panama's lineup. Since Panama has clinched a quarterfinal berth, they could chose to rest their starting lineup and prepare for the knockout stages. Canada will be forced to go all out against a team that has little to play for and would be more than happy with a draw I think. If I'm Panama however, I want to avoid any chance of playing Mexico in the quarterfinals, where the 3rd place team from Group C would match-up. Panama has to think that the USA will defeat Guadeloupe, and probably by a few goals. In the relatively tight standings, slipping back to third with a loss would not be ideal.

Aside from the USA, Canada might be the team struggling the most on offense in this tournament and in this must-win situation I don't see them flying goals past a normally stout Panama defense, that could be playing for a draw.

UNITED STATES (1-0-1, 3 pts, +1GD) vs. GUADELOUPE (0-0-2, 0 pts, -2)

United States advances with WIN or DRAW vs. Guadeloupe OR LOSS by 1 goal and Panama WIN.
Guadeloupe advances ONLY with WIN by two goals AND Panama WIN.

The USA is looking to overcome its first ever group stage loss and they get group minnows Guadeloupe to heal their pain. If I'm Bob Bradley I do a few things to my lineup. First, I put Clint Dempsey at forward and bench Altidore and Agudelo. Second, I reshuffle the backline despite the fact that I think the group has played well so far. Oguchi Onyewu might not be ready to play yet, so that could mean John Bornstein on the outside in favor of Tim Ream (Bocanegra slides to the middle). I'd give Sasha Kljestan a start somewhere in the midfield as well. My projected lineup...

USA - (GK) Howard, Bornstein, Goodson, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Donovan, Kljestan, Bradley, Adu, Wondo, Dempsey.

That seems a little more drastic than most, but I want to see two things from this lineup - energy and attacking. Adding Sasha and Freddy Adu gives this lineup both and allows Dempsey to spend more time in front of goal where he's been the most effective in the past few years. There is still a chance that the USA could win the group, meaning they would play one of the third-place teams. If not, a second place finish would pair them against Group B champions Jamaica, who just beat Honduras to go undefeated in their three group matches.

Overall the final matches of the group phase should at least be dramatic, The US can't wait around like it did in the first half against Panama and it must take the game to their opponents. The USA isn't known for their quick starts (rather their quick letdowns) but if there ever was a time for one it would be now. A solid 90 minutes here could at least give them a confidence boost heading into the knockout stages.
Posted on: June 12, 2011 9:42 am
Edited on: June 12, 2011 9:42 am
 

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 Knockout Scenarios

Basically, this entry is to explain the fate of all twelve teams as teams prepare for the final matches in the group stages and I recover from the USA's abysmal first half against Panama. Only four teams get eliminated from the knockout round, all fourth place finishers and the worst third place finisher as well. Three teams have already advanced to the knockout round by winning their first two matches - Mexico, Jamaica and Panama. For those three teams I'll detail their finishing scenarios, for all other teams it will be what they must do to advance. Their are very detailed and confusing tiebreakers elsewhere that focus on goal differential, which is very messy for Group A considering Costa Rica's advantage over El Salvador in that category.

GROUP A

MEXICO (2W-0D-0L, 6 pts, +10GD) - WIN or DRAW vs. Costa Rica for 1st. LOSS vs. Costa Rica for 2nd.

COSTA RICA (1-1-0, 4 pts, +5) - Advance with WIN or DRAW vs. Mexico.

EL SALVADOR (0-1-1, 1 pt, -5) - Advance with WIN over Cuba AND Mexico def. Costa Rica AND goal differential. Eliminated with LOSS to Cuba.

CUBA (0-0-2, 0 pts, -10) - Finish third with WIN over EL SALVADOR, must advance on thrid place tiebreaker. Eliminated with LOSS.

Mexico has advanced and Costa Rica is likely safe due to it's goal differentail number. El Salvador needs to get to four points to have a chance at advancing in the third place tiebreaker because it's GD number is awful. As it stands now, they'd be eliminated on GD by Guatemala. Cuba's situation is the same except that three points might not be enough to advance from third place.

GROUP B


JAMAICA (2-0-0, 6pts, +6) - WIN or DRAW vs. Honduras for 1st. Loss vs. Honduras for 2nd.

HONDURAS (1-1-0, 4pts, +6) - Advance with WIN or DRAW vs. Jamaica

GUATEMALA (0-1-1, 1 pt, -2) - Advance with WIN vs. Grenada AND Jamaica def. Honduras AND goal differential. Eliminated with LOSS to Grenada.

GRENADA (0-0-2, 0 pts, -10) - Finish third with WIN vs. GUATEMALA, must advance on third place tiebreaker. Eliminated with LOSS.

It's the same scenarios as Group A just with different teams. Jamaica has advanced and Honduras will likely finish second no matter what. If Guatemala beats Grenada however, they will be in good position for the thrid place tiebreaker. Grenada is in Cuba's position, where it has to hope that three points is enough to advance from third since they're goal differental number is bad.

GROUP C

PANAMA (2-0-0, 6 pts, +2) - WIN or DRAW vs. Canada for first.

USA (1-0-1, 3 pts, +1) - WIN vs. Guadelope to advance.

CANADA (1-0-1, 3pts, -1) - WIN vs. Panama to advance.

GUADELOPE (0-0-2, 0pts, -2) - WIN vs. USA for tie-breakers. Eliminated with LOSS

The problem with Group C is this - There are two disticnt possibilites of a three way tie on points. USA, Canada and Panama with two wins and six points and USA, Canada and Guadelope with one win and three points. The most likely scenario is the former, with the USA beating Guadelope and Canada beating Panama. At that point it comes down to goals, although the USA would definitely finish first unless Canada blows out Panama. Either way this group might be more of a disaster than the others.

As of now, all eight of the teams I predicted to qualify for the knockout stages are in, though not exactly in the proper order, which is why I didn't do a knockout prediction (but if I had, there would have been a USA-MEX final with a cliffhanger no pick for the champion).

My reaction to the USA loss last night are as follows: The USA still can't finish inside the 18 despite having about ten chances in the second half. Wondo's flier from close range comes to mind and Mike Bradley's laser that went wide as well. USA gave up two soft goals, one by not crashing the net to clear a goal (three red shirts and one white in front of Tim Howard) and then a PK on Tim Ream with the ball moving AWAY FROM GOAL! I think Mike Bradley spent to much time coming back to get the ball from the back line, I didn't see a lot of Landon Donovan with the ball and we still don't have an effective striker pairing. And the first half sucked. But that doesn't matter now, because there is one game left (vs. Guadelope on Tuesday at 8:30pm) and all you have to do is get three points, survive and advance.

Category: Soccer
Posted on: June 7, 2011 7:43 am
 

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 Group C Preview

Canada [CAN] – Rankings (FIFA – 75 / Elo – 59)
Nicknames – Canucks, Les Rouges
Qualification – NAFU (North America) – Automatic
CONCACAF Championships – 2 (1985, 2000)

Canada is the forgotten, red-headed stepchild of North America, lagging well behind its neighbors to the south. With that being said, Canada is slowly rising up the CONCACAF ladder and should be regular members of “The Hex” (CONCACAF’s Final Group Stage of WC Qualifying) in the near future. Canada’s roster features a good mix of European based and “domestic” based players since the top Canadian teams play in US affiliated leagues. Their top goal scorers, Dwayne De Rosario (NY Red Bulls) and Ali Gerba (Montreal Impact), should provide the punch in front of a very experienced defense, even if De Rosario is playing a holding midfield role. Their first team is very well capped, but there are a lot of youngsters on the squad as well. 

Guadeloupe [GPE] – Rankings (FIFA – N/A / Elo – 87)
Nicknames – Les Gwada Boys
Qualification – CFU (Caribbean) – Runner-up
CONCACAF Gold Cup – 2 Appearances, Semi-finals (4th) in 2007

I learned something this week. Guadeloupe is not a member of FIFA because technically they are a French “overseas department.” Basically, their players are all members of the French Football Federation but are only eligible to play for Guadeloupe if they haven’t suited up for the FFF in the last five years. This would explain why most of their roster comes from French or domestic leagues. Their captain Stephane Auvray plays for MLS’ Sporting KC. I’m not expecting a darkhorse from this squad, but it should be noted that they beat Panama in 2009 and Canada in 2007 in the Gold Cup Group Stages. 

Panama [PAN] – Rankings (FIFA – 68 / Elo – 57)
Nicknames – La Marea Roja, Los Canaleros
Qualification – UNCAF (Central America) – 3rd Place
CONCACAF Gold Cup – 5 Appearances, Runners-up in 2005

Panama is an interesting team, since they have never qualified for a World Cup and are only beginning to emerge as a regional power, going winless in “The Hex” during the Germany 2006 campaign. With a roster almost entirely of domestic and South American based players, their first team boasts some significant international experience but lacks depth as with many Central American sides whose first teams play almost all the games on the international slate. Expect to hear the names of Luis Tejada and Blas Perez associated with almost all the goal scoring, as the two strikers have a combined 28 goals in 93 caps.

United States [USA] – Rankings (FIFA – 22 / Elo – 27)
Nicknames – The Yanks
Qualification – NAFU (North America) – Automatic / Hosts
CONCACAF Gold Cup Championships – 4 (’91, ’02, ’05, ’07) 

Bob Bradley and his first team are looking to erase any memory of last year’s 5-0 thrashing in the 2009 Gold Cup final at the hands of Mexico. That wasn’t the top US team that almost won the Confederations Cup a month earlier but the loss still stings most US soccer fans. Like most of his US squads, Bob Bradley will rely heavily on keeper Tim Howard and midfielders Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley to do the heavy lifting in front of a very experienced back line, though left-back remains a question mark. The problem as always is up front and the revolving door of strikers next to Jozy Altidore continues. Youngsters Adu and Agudelo join club veteran but international rookie Wondolowski up front. Alejandro Bedoya replaced Benny Feilhaber (ankle) on the roster on Monday, which also leaves in doubt a starting spot in central midfield. There is no doubt that the US is the favorite to win the group and should make the final vs. Mexico and this team should live up to those expectations, despite the questions going in. There is just too much talent on the roster to falter here in the group stages and constant offensive pressure will eventually lead to goals, no matter who scores them.

PREDICTIONS
Standings (W-D-L, Pts, GD)                                                            Results
USA - (3-0-0, 9 pts, +6)                                                                  PAN 3-1 GPE
PAN - (1-1-1, 4 pts, +1)                                                                  USA 3-1 CAN
CAN - (1-1-1, 4 pts, -1)                                                                   CAN 2-1 GPE
GPE - (0-0-3, 0 pts, -6)                                                                   USA 2-1 PAN
                                                                                                              CAN 1-1 PAN
                                                                                                              USA 3-0 GPE

This group isn't as cut and dry as the rest, with the exception that the USA should win the group going away. I'm probably not giving Guadeloupe any justice, and I'm okay with that at the moment. I think Panama is the better attacking side than Canada so they'll have the edge in goals. I'll explain this when I do my knockout picks but my two third-place teams are going to be Canada and Guatemala (Group B). The Canada-Panama matchup is going to have so major implications in the tournament. With the USA likely already advancing, second place in the group will be up for grabs to the winner and a thrid-place tiebreaker as well, asuming neither side dropped points to Guadeloupe.
Posted on: June 6, 2011 8:26 am
 

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 Group B Preview

Grenada [GRN] – Rankings (FIFA – 98 / Elo – 134)
Nicknames – Spice Boys
Qualification – CFU (Carribbean) – 4th Place
CONCACAF Gold Cup – 1 Appearance, Group State in 2009 

Grenada took a huge blow to their chances at advancement to the knockout stages when New England Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph stayed with his club team. The Spice Boys roster consists of largely domestic and lower-tier English league players. Craig Rocastle of Sporting KC is the only MLS player on a roster that in any other group I would say is definitely outmatched. But aside from Honduras, I think Grenada should be fighting for points in their other matches against Jamaica (who beat them 2-0 in qualifying) and Guatemala.

 Guatemala [GUA] – Rankings (FIFA – 126 / Elo – 105)
Nicknames – Los Chapines, La Bicolor
Qualification – UNCAF (Central America) – 5th Place
CONCACAF Championships – 1967

Another minnow looking to make some noise in the shark tank is Guatemala. Another roster of largely domestic based players, the two you should know are MLS’ Marco Pappa (CHI Fire) and maddening striker and all time Guatemala scorer Carlos Ruiz (PHI Union). If they want to advance out of the group, they’re going to have to figure out how to get points from either Jamaica or Honduras and beat Grenada.

Honduras [HON] – Rankings (FIFA – 38 / Elo – 37)
Nicknames – Los Catrachos
Qualification – UNCAF (Central America) – Champions
CONCACAF Championships – 1981

 Like Costa Rica, Honduras is an emerging regional power in CONCACAF, qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They are the clear favorites of the group, and boast a roster mix of experience and youth as well as domestic and international players, including players from the EPL and Bundesliga and Scottish PL as well as MLS’ Roger Espinosa (Sporting KC). Keep an eye on the likely starting strikers up top, Carlo Costly and Walter Martinez, who have a combined 28 goals in 88 caps between them. This is a group that plays a lot together as a lot of guys in their mid-20s have already been capped 40 times or more. If you’re looking for the first non-North American team to win the Gold Cup, this year’s Honduras squad should be your pick.

Jamaica [JAM] – Rankings (FIFA – 55 / Elo – 47)
Nicknames – Reggae Boys
Qualification – CFU (Carribean) – Champions
CONCACAF Gold Cup – 7 Appearances, 3rd in 1993

 Another team trying to break out into a regional power is Jamaica. They’ve been one of the best teams in the Caribbean in recent years, but that hasn’t translated into success in the CONCACAF region yet. For a nation of its size, Jamaica boasts a roster largely dominant of international players, including nice from MLS and six from Norway, including the squads leading scorer, striker Luton Shelton (Valerenga, NOR), who has 30 goals in just 55 caps. LA Galaxy’s starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts will likely be in goal for the Reggae Boys as well.

PREDICTIONS
Standings (W-D-L, Pts, GD)                                                     Results
HON - (2-1-0, 7pts, +5                                                              JAM 3-1 GRN
JAM - (2-1-0, 7pts, +3                                                               HON 2-0 GUA
GUA - (1-0-2, 3pts, -2                                                                JAM 2-1 GUA
GRN - (0-0-3, 0 pts, -6                                                               GRN 0-3 HON
                                                                                                         GUA 2-1 GRN
                                                                                                         HON 1-1 JAM

Another group that has the best matchup last means another group where the top two teams have likely already qualified for the knockout rounds. I think Guatemala has a chance to advance as they are currently ahead of Cuba in the third place tiebreaker on goal differential and I wouldn't be suprised if they pick up a draw against Jamaica. I think Grenada is just between a rock and a hard place, despite the fact that this could be the best group for them to advance in. For either Grenada or Guatemala to advance to the knockout, they have to win their matchup and steal a point from probably Jamaica. I don't see Honduras losing in their first two matchups.

Posted on: June 5, 2011 3:18 pm
Edited on: June 5, 2011 3:19 pm
 

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 - Group A Preview

Costa Rica [CRC] – Rankings (FIFA – 53 / Elo – 43)
Nicknames - Ticos, La Sele
Qualification – UNCAF (Central America) – 2nd Place
CONCACAF Championships – 3 (1963, 1969, 1989)

Costa Rica have become as close to a regional power as you can get in CONCACAF. They qualified for the World Cup in 2002 and 2006 and have made the knockout stages of the Gold Cup in the last six tournaments dating back to 2000. Their best finish in the “modern” Gold Cup was a runner-up finish to the USA in 2002. RSL striker Alvaro Saborio will likely lead the attack for Costa Rica, whose roster features a nice mix of domestic and internationally based players. Their first two matchups will be against Cuba and El Salvador and two wins would secure a knockout berth before ending the group stage against Mexico.

Cuba [CUB] – Rankings (FIFA – 65 / Elo – 98)
Nicknames – Leones del Caribe
Qualification – CFU (Caribbean) 3rd Place
CONCACAF Gold Cup – 5 Appearances, Quarters in 2003

If you’re looking for a darkhorse, Cuba is it. Why? Because we hardly know anything about them. They have an entire roster of domestically based players and don’t exactly play a lot of friendly matches. Their record in the CFU Championship was very impressive as the 5<sup>th</sup> seed, winning both of their qualification groups (defeating and eliminating Trinidad & Tobago in the process) before losing in the semi-finals to Guadelope.

El Salvador [SLV] – Rankings (FIFA – 87 / Elo – 94)
Nicknames – Los Cuscatlecos
Qualification – UNCAF (Central America) 4th Place
CONCACAF Gold Cup – 6 Appearances, Quarters in 2002, 2003

El Salvador is an interesting team, featuring a squad of almost all domestic players. There are two MLS players on the squad, Timbers D Steve Purdy and RSL M Arturo Alvarez but the rest of the players are largely unknowns. 2011 Copa Centroamericana (UNCAF’s qualifying tournament for the Gold Cup) Golden Boot winner F Rafael Burgos did not make the roster. Don’t expect a lot of noise from this side if they make it to the knockout stages.

 Mexico [MEX] – Rankings (FIFA – 28 / Elo – 12)
Nickname – El Tri
Qualification – NAFU (North America) – Automatic
CONCACAF Championships – ’65, ’71, ’77, ’93, ’96, ’98, ’03, ‘09 

The defending champions are set to defend their title and this might be one of the best teams they’ve fielded in several years. A good mix of domestic and internationally based players, US fans should be familiar with NY Red Bulls M/D Rafael Marquez and Manchester United F Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. They just mopped up New Zealand in a friendly 3-0 in Denver on June 1st and drew with Ecuador 1-1 in Seattle on May 28th.

PREDICTIONS
Standings (W-D-L, Pts, GD)                                   Results

MEX – 2-1-0, 7pts, +5                                               CRC 2-0 CUB
CRC – 2-1-0, 7 pts, +4                                              MEX 3-0 SLV
CUB – 1-0-2, 3 pts, -3                                                CRC 2-0 SLV
SLV – 0-0-3, 0 pts, -6                                                CUB 1-3 MEX
                                                                                           SLV  0-1 CUB
                                                                                          MEX 2-2 CRC

I expect to see Mexico and Costa Rica to have the top two spots wrapped up before they playmaking that final game meaningless. I think El Salvador and Cuba are just overmatched in this particular group. I haven’t figured out the other two groups so I won’t know if Cuba will be advancing in the third place tiebreaker but I’d be stunned to see Mexico or Costa Rica out in the group stages.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com