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 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.

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.
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