With the region’s top dogs undergoing a transitional period, the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup should be an open-ended tournament.
The likes of the United States, Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica have called up several promising young players. They’ve also hired new coaches who will use this Gold Cup as a barometer of their national team’s progress.
There are a couple of added wrinkles to this year’s tournament, which should provide added intrigue. Most notably, the field has expanded from 12 to 16 teams. Therefore, the top two sides in each of the four groups will advance to the knockout stage, leaving little margin for error in the opening round.
Here is a closer look at every nation competing in this year’s Concacaf Gold Cup, which kicks off this weekend.
Best Gold Cup showing: Champions (2000)
Coach: John Herdman. The English tactician left the women’s national team for the men’s side in January 2018. This tournament will provide Herdman’s first litmus test in determining whether Les Rouges can hang with the big boys in Concacaf.
Group A schedule: Martinique (June 15 in Pasadena, Calif.), Mexico (June 19 in Denver, Col.), Cuba (June 23 in Charlotte, N.C.)
Player to watch: Mark-Anthony Kaye. A standout performer with LAFC, Kaye will be entering the tournament in bright form. However, due to a dearth of options on defence, the 24-year-old may be asked to slide into the back line for certain games. Kaye has experience at left back, so it won’t be unfamiliar to him, but if given the opportunity to start in midfield, he’ll be tasked with orchestrating the game and covering ground to ensure that the opposition doesn’t exploit the half spaces.
Burning question: Will Canada’s defence hold up? The team’s depth will be tested with only six defenders on the roster. That includes uncapped centre-back Kamal Miller, Doneil Henry and Marcus Godinho, both of whom won’t be fully match fit. The midfielders will play a crucial role, though. Depending on the game situation, if Canada can keep possession or stay compact, that will alleviate some pressure on the defenders.
Outlook: Herdman stated he is confident that Canada will qualify for the quarterfinals from Group A, which is very feasible. From there, a potential meeting with Costa Rica awaits the Reds. Los Ticos are a huge threat on counter-attacks, set pieces and on the flanks, which could pose issues for the Canadians. It would, however, be a balanced matchup. Therefore, a quarter or semifinal showing is attainable for this team.
Best Gold Cup showing: Champions (1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2015)
Coach: Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Like many other coaches at the Gold Cup, Martino has been in charge of Mexico for a short time, having been hired in January.
Group A schedule: Cuba (June 15 in Pasadena, Calif.), Canada (June 19 in Denver, Col.), Martinique (June 23 in Charlotte, N.C.)
Player to watch: Edson Alvarez. Even though he’s carrying a minor knock, Alvarez still made the final squad. The 21-year-old is primarily a centre-back, yet Martino has deployed Alvarez in a No. 6 role because of his astute anticipation and distribution. He’s the key player in this system and will surely thrive in the position.
Burning question: Can Mexico overcome injuries? With Hirving Lozano and Hector Moreno missing the Gold Cup, that will cause an even bigger selection headache for Martino. The defence will be especially worrisome since building from the back is a major component of Martino’s sides.
Outlook: Winning the Gold Cup is always the expectation with Mexico. However, with a new coach, a few fresh additions to the squad and other teams in similar situations, the field could be more balanced compared to previous tournaments. That being said, the knockout stage – as usual – lines up favourably for El Tri. With a massive home advantage and a squad bursting with quality, a final should be the minimum goal for Martino’s men.
Best Gold Cup showing: Quarterfinals (2002)
Coach: Mario Bocaly. The Martiniquais tactician guided the national team to the Gold Cup and qualified for “Group A” of the Nations League after securing four wins from their four matches.
Group A schedule: Canada (June 15 in Pasadena, Calif.), Cuba (June 19 in Denver, Col.), Mexico (June 23 in Charlotte, N.C.)
Player to watch: Kevin Parsemain. The veteran striker finished atop the Golden Boot standings at the 2017 Gold Cup with Alphonso Davies and Jordan Morris after striking three times in the group stage. The 31-year-old is dominant in the air and tends to shoot on sight, so defences have to be on high alert.
Burning question: How will the defence fare? One of the leading factors behind Martinique’s early exit from the 2017 Gold Cup was a leaky defence. It held up very well in the Nations League qualifiers, but whether it can stay stingy versus the likes of Canada and Mexico will be the real litmus test.
Outlook: Four points will likely be required to finish in second place in Group A. Martinique faces Canada in its opening match at the Rose Bowl, the same venue where Les Matinino stunned the Canadians at the 2013 Gold Cup. Grabbing a point could significantly boost their chances of reaching the knockout stage. But again, it all depends on how the defence performs.
Best Gold Cup showing: Quarterfinals (2003, 2013, 2015)
Coach: Raul Mederos. He’s been in charge of the team since 2016 and steered the Cubans into “Group A” of the Concacaf Nations League after winning three of four qualifiers.
Group A schedule: Mexico (June 15 in Pasadena, Calif.), Martinique (June 19 in Denver, Col.), Canada (June 23 in Charlotte, N.C.)
Player to watch: Luis Paradela. One of eight players plying his trade abroad, Paradela, 22, has five goals in six appearances for his country. He’ll try to build on those impressive numbers at this Gold Cup.
Burning question: Can they handle faster teams? A 2-1 loss to Haiti in the Nations League qualifiers exploited Cuba’s major weakness. The defence struggled against the dynamism of Haiti’s attack. That doesn’t bode well against Mexico and Canada, who have very dangerous attacking options.
Outlook: Facing Mexico right away is a blessing in disguise. That leaves Cuba in charge of its own destiny. However, that final match versus Canada will likely determine the Cubans’ fate. Given the defensive concerns, it’s difficult to foresee Cuba reaching the quarterfinals.
Best Gold Cup showing: Runners-up (2002)
Coach: Gustavo Matosas. This will be Matosas’ first national team job having coached numerous clubs across the Americas. The Argentine prefers a fast-paced attacking style, so Costa Rica should be one of the more exciting sides at the Gold Cup.
Group A schedule: Nicaragua (June 16 in San Jose, Costa Rica), Bermuda (June 20 in Frisco, Tex.), Haiti (June 24 in Harrison, N.J.)
Player to watch: Randall Leal. The Saprissa midfielder is one of many exciting young players on this roster. Leal can play as a No. 10 or out wide, but either way, he’s a dynamic attacker who can create space with his technique.
Burning question: How will the midfield look? Celso Borges, Allan Cruz and Leal might be the most ideal trio. Borges is the anchor, plus Cruz and Leal can alternate as the advanced midfielder. The former two have played together, and Costa Rica clearly has strong depth in that area. How Matosas decides to line up will be significant, though. He’s alternated between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 in friendlies thus far.
Outlook: Costa Rica should breeze through Group B. The knockout stage is where it will become more of a challenge. In all likelihood, los Ticos would face Canada and Mexico en route to a potential final. A semifinal is feasible, although it depends on how quickly the midfield can form chemistry and if the forwards are given the proper service.
Best Gold Cup showing: Quarterfinals (2002, 2009, 2015)
Coach: Marc Collat. This is Collat’s second stint with Haiti after stepping down in 2015 due to a reported wage dispute. He led Haiti to the knockout stage at the 2015 Gold Cup and will try to repeat the feat this summer.
Group A schedule: Bermuda (June 16 in San Jose, Costa Rica), Nicaragua (June 20 in Frisco, Tex.), Costa Rica (June 24 in Harrison, N.J.)
Player to watch: Johny Placide. The Haitian goalkeeper has to be alert in the first two games because dropped points could hinder Haiti’s hopes of reaching the knockout stage.
Burning question: Will anyone shut down Haiti’s counter-attack? The recent 2-1 defeat to Chile demonstrated the danger of Haiti’s counter. But considering the Haitians could see more possession against Bermuda and Nicaragua, they might have to rely on breaking down the opposition. That will be an intriguing proposition at this Gold Cup.
Outlook: This was a favourable draw for Haiti. Four points might be enough to qualify for the knockout stage, but it’s imperative that the Haitians capitalize on their opening two matches. With their pace on the counter-attack and defensive solidity, they could be a tricky proposition in the quarterfinals.
Best Gold Cup showing: N/A
Coach: Kyle Lightbourne. A former Bermudan international, Lightbourne also led Bermuda at the 2017 Concacaf U-20 Championship, which was the country’s first appearance at the tournament since 1990. Four members of that under-20 side were called up for this Gold Cup.
Group A schedule: Haiti (June 16 in San Jose, Costa Rica), Costa Rica (June 20 in Frisco, Tex.), Nicaragua (June 24 in Harrison, N.J.)
Player to watch: Nahki Wells. With seven goals in 11 caps, Wells will be the danger man for Bermuda. The 29-year-old spent this past season on loan at Queens Park Rangers in the English Championship where he established himself as a regular starter for the club. He possesses excellent off-the-ball movement and tends to drop deep to become involved in his team’s attacking build-up.
Burning question: Can Bermuda keep up the momentum? All four sides will feel confident about qualifying for the knockout stage. They rattled off three straight wins to reach the Gold Cup and “Group A” of the Concacaf Nations League during the qualifying process, including a 1-0 win over El Salvador. Bermuda could find themselves in contention for a quarterfinal with that same defensive discipline.
Outlook: This will be Bermuda’s first major tournament, so the Caribbean island has already exceeded expectations. Haiti will be favoured to finish in the top two of Group B, mainly due to their comfortable 2-0 victory over Nicaragua during Nations League qualifying. It’s likely that the Bermudans will exit at the group stage, but that is perfectly acceptable considering the vast improvements to the national team program over the past couple of years.
Best Gold Cup showing: Group stage (2009, 2017)
Coach: Henry Duarte. He was hired in 2014 and has subsequently guided the nation to back-to-back Gold Cups for the first time in the tournament’s modern era. Duarte will also face his birth nation, Costa Rica, in Group B.
Group A schedule: Costa Rica (June 16 in San Jose, Costa Rica), Haiti (June 20 in Frisco, Tex.), Bermuda (June 24 in Harrison, N.J.)
Player to watch: Renato Punyed. The 23-year-old is a key cog in the heart of midfield. Punyed will be responsible for shielding the defence and orchestrating the match when necessary, which will help alleviate pressure on his back line.
Burning question: Can the defence stay disciplined? Conceding a total of eight goals and an average of 14 shots per game against Cuba, Haiti and Bolivia isn’t promising. When the attack can’t generate as many quality chances, then the back line has to be stingy. If Nicaragua continue that not-so-encouraging defensive trend, that will be a problem.
Outlook: The order of play in Group B is favourable for Nicaragua. Haiti will be seen as a favourite to finish in the top two, so that second match will likely determine the team’s fate. The only issue is the Nicaraguans have been brutally inconsistent on both sides of the pitch in their recent friendlies. If they can’t stay defensively compact at the Gold Cup, then it’ll probably lead to an early exit.
Best Gold Cup showing: Runners-up (2015, 2017)
Coach: Theodore Whitmore. The former Jamaica international led a youthful Jamaica to the final in 2017. Now he’ll be hoping to repeat the feat with an equally young squad in 2019.
Group A schedule: Honduras (June 17 in Kingston, Jamaica), El Salvador (June 21 in Houston, Tex.), Curacao (June 25 in Los Angeles, Calif.)
Player to watch: Peter-Lee Vassell. The LAFC rookie has logged 11 caps for the national team at just 20 years of age, but he’s one of several exciting youngsters on Jamaica’s squad. He’s predominantly a No. 10 with strong technique, shooting and vision. Vassell will also track back and defend, which will be imperative for the Jamaicans.
Burning question: Will the full-backs benefit or hinder Jamaica? Alvas Powell and Kemar Lawrence will be one of the most lethal full-back tandems at the Gold Cup. But their attacking tendencies may leave Jamaica exposed out wide. Lawrence is usually responsible but Powell can be a defensive liability. That will be one area to exploit for the opposition.
Outlook: Another run to the final could be in the works for Jamaica. Even as a runner-up in Group C, they could face the United States in the quarterfinals, and the U.S. are undergoing a new process with coach Gregg Berhalter. The Reggae Boyz are more settled, which benefits them greatly at this Gold Cup.
Best Gold Cup showing: Runners-up (1991)
Coach: Fabian Coito. The Uruguayan was in charge of the country’s U-20 side until this year. Coito has a strong track record of developing young players, which might benefit a Honduran side that’s undergoing a minor youth revolution.
Group A schedule: Jamaica (June 17 in Kingston, Jamaica), Curacao (June 21 in Houston, Tex.), El Salvador (June 25 in Los Angeles, Calif.)
Player to watch: Alberth Elis. The 23-year-old forward has been linked to European clubs for about a year. A dominant showing at the Gold Cup could accelerate a potential move away from the Houston Dynamo. A terrific dribbler with tremendous vision, Elis will be the focal point of Honduras’ attack.
Burning question: Is Honduras’ pre-Gold Cup form a bad omen? Los Catrachos were demolished 7-0 by Brazil in their final friendly and only have one win in their last eight games. What’s even more surprising is how poor the attack has performed in those matches. They’ve averaged 0.75 expected goals per 90 minutes, which is devastatingly low for a team with this level of talent up front. On the other hand, Honduras’ intensity could be lifted in a more competitive setting.
Outlook: Honduras should be expected to advance to the quarterfinals. That side of the draw is quite balanced, so facing the likes of the U.S. or Jamaica shouldn’t be a Herculean challenge. But the defending has to improve and the attack can’t be solely reliant on Elis.
Best Gold Cup showing: Quarterfinals (2002, 2003, 2011, 2013, 2017)
Coach: Carlos de los Cobos. The ex-Mexico international is back for his second stint with El Salvador, having led the national team from 2006 to 2009.
Group A schedule: Curacao (June 17 in Kingston, Jamaica), Jamaica (June 21 in Houston, Tex.), Honduras (June 25 in Los Angeles, Calif.)
Player to watch: Roberto Dominguez. The centre-back was signed by the Vancouver Whitecaps last year, but barely cracked the first team before returning to FAS in his native country. At 22, Dominguez still has an opportunity to establish himself abroad, especially if he impresses at the Gold Cup. The youngster is very comfortable on the ball and is a towering presence at the back. He could be one of the top U-23 players to watch at the tournament.
Burning question: Will the team’s form carry into the Gold Cup? El Salvador has won five straight games, including victories over Peru and Jamaica. Those were massive results, but the Salvadorans also benefitted with some wasteful finishing from their opponents. But the confidence is clearly present in this squad, and that could go a long way in determining the nation’s fate past the group stage.
Outlook: Group C is very competitive on paper, so El Salvador has as much of a chance of progressing to the quarterfinals as they do being knocked out entirely. The final group match versus Honduras, the country’s fiercest rival, will likely determine its fate. However, a win over Curacao in the opening game significantly boosts the Salvadorans’ hopes of reaching the knockout stage.
Best Gold Cup showing: Group stage (2017)
Coach: Remko Bicentini. He was Patrick Kluivert’s assistant when the ex-Dutch international was Curacao’s coach. Bicentini has since lifted the Caribbean Cup, the country’s first-ever title, and qualified for League A of the Concacaf Nations League.
Group A schedule: El Salvador (June 17 in Kingston, Jamaica), Honduras (June 21 in Houston, Tex.), Jamaica (June 25 in Los Angeles, Calif.)
Player to watch: Leandro Bacuna. The midfielder is one of Curacao’s stalwarts. He’s one of the chief creators for the team and a relatively consistent scorer from midfield, plus he tracks back to defend. Curacao’s success hinges on Bacuna’s all-around complete game.
Burning question: How will Curacao respond against stronger opposition? The Caribbean nation just won the Kings Cup over India, Thailand and Vietnam. It’s always a motivational boost to win a trophy, even if it’s a friendly tournament, but the Gold Cup will pose tougher challenges. Curacao’s defensive structure will keep its games tight during the Gold Cup. It will only sway positively on the attacking output of strikers Gevaro Nepomuceno and Jafar Arias.
Outlook: The opening game against El Salvador is a must-win for Curacao. Four points could be enough to qualify, but that means grinding out a draw against Jamaica or Honduras. Regardless, the quarterfinals are achievable thanks to Curacao’s defensive prowess.
Best Gold Cup showing: Champions (1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2017)
Coach: Gregg Berhalter. The former U.S. international established a strong tactical identity while with the Columbus Crew, who utilized a high press and a fast-paced attack-minded system. Berhalter will try to translate that at the Gold Cup.
Group A schedule: Guyana (June 18 in Saint Paul, Minn.), Trinidad and Tobago (June 22 in Cleveland, Ohio), Panama (June 26 in Kansas City, Kan.)
Player to watch: Michael Bradley. Simply put, the U.S. has to do its best to ensure Bradley isn’t covering too much ground and is able to orchestrate the game. Previous coaches have asked Bradley to cover too much ground and failed to provide a stable partner in midfield. Cristian Roldan, Weston McKennie or Duane Holmes would be suitable, but it’s imperative that they don’t roam from their positions too often.
Burning question: Who will be the trio in midfield? Bradley, Roldan, McKennie, Holmes and Trapp will feel confident in their chances of starting. There are a variety of options for Berhalter, and given the vast differences in playing style of the USA’s opponents, that is a positive.
Outlook: Conveniently (yet again), the U.S. avoid Mexico until a possible final. Reaching that stage should be the bare minimum, even with a new coach and a squad that is still grasping Berhalter’s system. However, the Americans have looked shaky in friendlies. They’ve even lacked a cutting edge at times. If that creeps into this team at the Gold Cup, then it could be a repeat of 2015 when they crashed out in the semifinals.
Best Gold Cup showing: Runners-up (2005, 2013)
Coach: Julio Dely Valdes. The former Panamanian international is the interim boss for the national team after Hernan Dario Gomez accepted the Ecuador job.
Group A schedule: Trinidad and Tobago (June 18 in Saint Paul, Minn.), Guyana (June 22 in Cleveland, Ohio), United States (June 26 in Kansas City, Kan.)
Player to watch: Alberto Quintero. The winger will need to be on high alert whenever Panama tries to punish teams on the counter. His pace and dribbling will be able to unlock space on the wings if the opposition is pushed up too high.
Burning question: Will there be goals? Panama is not the most offensively gifted side at the Gold Cup. Los Canaleros are averaging 0.55 goals per 90 minutes and 0.47 expected goals per 90 minutes. Quintero and Jose Luis Rodriguez will be leaned on to produce chances for the strikers, but if the Panamanians are only relying on counter-attacks, they will have to be clinical and that’s not been the case since the end of the World Cup.
Outlook: Group D will be a dogfight to qualify for the quarterfinals. Panama’s chances are unknown due to its lack of attacking vigour. The Canal Men have been leaky defensively in recent friendlies, too, so that does not bode well.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Best Gold Cup showing: Semifinals (2000)
Coach: Dennis Lawrence. The 44-year-old was hired in January 2017 and will coach the in his first tournament with the national team.
Group A schedule: Panama (June 18 in Saint Paul, Minn.), United States (June 22 in Cleveland, Ohio), Guyana (June 26 in Kansas City, Kan.)
Player to watch: Kevin Molino. With 19 goals in 43 caps, Molino is the main attacking threat for Trinidad and Tobago. He has not played for the national team since a November 2017 friendly against Grenada, so it might take some time to adjust to his new teammates.
Burning question: Can Trinidad and Tobago up the creativity? In the last five matches, the Trinidadians have only mustered an average of four shots per 90 minutes. It’s a pitiful sum for any side, let alone a team that has a decent chance at qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Outlook: Like Guyana and Panama, Trinidad and Tobago have struggled offensively. Goal-scoring could be at a premium in Group D, so the odds of qualifying for the knockout rounds are modest.
Best Gold Cup showing: N/A
Coach: Michael Johnson. The man responsible for guiding Guyana into their first major tournament and into League B of the Concacaf Nations League. Not bad accomplishments for a national team that did not play a single match between 2012 and 2014.
Group A schedule: United States (June 18 in Saint Paul, Minn.), Panama (June 22 in Cleveland, Ohio), Trinidad and Tobago (June 26 in Kansas City, Kan.)
Player to watch: Emery Welshman. The winger is one of two Canadian Premier League players at the tournament along with Forge FC teammate Quillan Roberts, who is also representing Guyana. In just nine appearances, Welshman has seven goals, more than any other Guyanese player on the 23-man squad.
Burning question: Will Guyana play without fear? Johnson wasn’t afraid to take the game to the opposition in the Nations League qualifiers. Some tactical tweaks may be required but given Trinidad’s and Panama’s attacking woes, Guyana could dictate the tempo of their matches.
Outlook: Guyana has nothing to lose considering this is its first proper tournament. Facing the United States in the opening game – the toughest match on paper – is ideal. The Golden Jaguars won’t be favoured, but perhaps playing without a ton of pressure will benefit the players.
All stats courtesy of Wyscout