The CONCACAF Gold Cup begins on Tuesday with the United States vying to defend its title.
A revamped and new-look Canada side is also hoping to make an impact with a couple of young players on the roster.
Here is a breakdown of every team in this year’s tournament.
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann
Best result: Champions (1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013)
Synopsis: The reigning Gold Cup champions struggled after last year’s World Cup, but earned two massive results against the Netherlands and Germany on the road in friendlies last month. There are still some defensive issues, which were evident in both of those victories. John Brooks has not been convincing at the heart of the back line and Timothy Chandler has not looked very confident in a U.S. shirt. It was a surprise to see Sporting Kansas City centre back Matt Besler left off the roster given those rocky performances, but Omar Gonzalez could form a solid partnership with Ventura Alvarado. The key for the USA is Michael Bradley. Two of his best showings for the national team came against the Dutch and Germans. When the Toronto FC midfielder takes control, the Stars and Stripes usually win.
Player to watch: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
Schedule: Honduras (July 7), Haiti (July 10), Panama (July 13)
Prediction: First in Group A
Manager: Marc Collat
Best result: Quarterfinals (2002, 2009)
Synopsis: It will be a Herculean task for Haiti to qualify for the quarterfinals given the strength of the teams in Group A. Even if the Haitians finish in third place, they’d likely have to beat one of Panama, Honduras or the United States. Les Grenadiers’ squad is composed of players who represent clubs in 13 different nations, many of which are first-division sides, so manager Marc Collat has a variety of options. Collat did leave one notable player off the roster in Sporting Kansas City’s Soni Mustivar, who has been exceptional in the heart of midfield. However, he is on the alternates list and can be called up after the group stage. If Kervens Belfort—joint-top scorer at the 2014 Caribbean Cup—can receive some decent service on the counter, Haiti could cause some problems for their opponents.
Player to watch: Kervens Belfort (Frejus Saint-Raphael)
Schedule: Panama (July 7), United States (July 10), Honduras (July 13)
Prediction: Fourth in Group A
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
Best result: Runners-up (1991)
Synopsis: Honduras would normally be a favourite in its group, but with Panama and the United States to compete against, it will be significantly tougher to advance to the knockout round. However, former Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto has significantly altered the team’s philosophy since he took over in December. Los Catrachos are not as physical as they were at last year’s World Cup, but Pinto still puts an emphasis on a tactically strong and organized defence. He also wants Honduras to play dynamic and quick, which has been evident in their pre-Gold Cup friendlies. The Hondurans can definitely claim first place in Group A and even win the tournament with this system.
Player to watch: Andy Najar (Anderlecht)
Schedule: United States (July 7), Panama (July 10), Haiti (July 13)
Prediction: Third in Group A
Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez
Best result: Runners-up (2005, 2013)
Synopsis: Panama rounds off the “Group of Death” at the Gold Cup. Like Honduras and the United States, the Panamanians are one of the favourites to win the group. They will be out for revenge after a humbling defeat at the hands of the U.S. in the 2013 final. The squad has a lot of experience, with Gabriel Gomez, Jaime Penedo, Blas Perez, Roman Torres and Luis Tejada. All five players have been pillars for the national team and will be key for Los Canaleros. The defence and swift counterattacks led to Panama’s deep run in 2013 and the same will be necessary to repeat the feat this year. In fact, it was that performance that led to Penedo and Gabriel Torres signing with the Colorado Rapids and L.A. Galaxy, respectively.
Player to watch: Jaime Penedo (L.A. Galaxy)
Schedule: Haiti (July 7), Honduras (July 10), United States (July 13)
Prediction: Second in Group A
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Manager: Paulo Wanchope
Best result: Runners-up (2002)
Synopsis: The 2014 World Cup quarterfinalists no longer have Jorge Luis Pinto, the coach who guided them on that historic run, but they’re still in good hands. Paulo Wanchope, the country’s second all-time leading scorer, took over and has thrived ever since. Costa Rica won a record-extending eighth Central American Cup title in September and will be looking to win its first Gold Cup. The roster is composed of players from the 2013 tournament, along with some youngsters who will be aiming to make an impact with the national team. With that added depth, defensive organization and technical forwards, Los Ticos should be able to mount a deep run in the competition and possibly get to their second final.
Player to watch: David Ramirez (Evian, on loan from Deportivo Saprissa)
Schedule: Jamaica (July 8), El Salvador (July 11), Canada (July 14)
Prediction: First in Group B
Manager: Albert Roca
Best result: Quarterfinals (2002, 2003, 2011, 2013)
Synopsis: El Salvador has qualified for the last two Gold Cup quarterfinals, but was swiftly eliminated by the United States and Panama. La Selecta had to get through some difficult groups before qualifying for the knockouts, though. They had to compete with Costa Rica and Mexico in 2011, but finished in third with four points in order to progress. Group B in this year’s tournament is not as treacherous, but it’s still going to be hard to navigate with the Costa Ricans (again), Jamaica, and Canada. The Salvadorans struggled to score in the Central American Cup, but they’re rock solid defensively thanks to Orlando City midfielder Darwin Ceren, who has impressed for both club and country in 2015.
Player to watch: Darwin Ceren (Orlando City SC)
Schedule: Canada (July 8), Costa Rica (July 11), Jamaica (July 14)
Prediction: Fourth in Group B
Manager: Benito Floro
Best result: Champions (2000)
Synopsis: The 2013 Gold Cup was a disaster for Canada. It lost 1-0 to Martinique in the group stage, which is one of the most embarrassing results in recent memory for the national team. The Canadians finished last in their group with just one point. Now, the future is a lot brighter with the additions of Orlando City striker Cyle Larin and FC Dallas’ Tesho Akindele. Jonathan Osorio, Russell Teibert, Maxim Tissot, Ashtone Morgan, and Karl Ouimette, all 24 years old and under, are also on the 23-man roster. The midfield and attack looks promising, but the back five is depleted without goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who turned down a call-up due to club commitments. Midfielder Atiba Hutchinson is hurt and could’ve provided cover at fullback, so the Reds have less depth in both areas. However, Canada finally has options up front and will be a threat going forward, which could be enough to get them into the quarterfinals.
Player to watch: Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC)
Schedule: El Salvador (July 8), Jamaica (July 11), Costa Rica (July 14)
Prediction: Third in Group B
Manager: Winfried Schafer
Best result: Third (1993)
Synopsis: Jamaica has been quietly improving over the last few years. The Reggae Boyz are led by experienced manager Winfried Schafer, who won the 2002 African Cup of Nations with Cameroon and guided the Africans to the final of the 2003 Confederations Cup. Now Schafer has control of a balanced squad with youth and experience. A cliché that’s commonly associated with Jamaica is speed. The players are definitely fast, but it’s a very technical side as well. Giles Barnes, Michael Seaton, Simon Dawkins and Je-Vaughn Watson are all experienced and will be integral to the team’s success. The Jamaicans participated in this summer’s Copa America, and even though they finished with zero points, it was a great lesson for the younger members of the team such as Darren Mattocks, Deshorn Brown and Kemar Lawrence. Jamaica is a dark horse in Group B and will be a very disciplined, organized side that boasts a lot of talent.
Player to watch: Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers)
Schedule: Costa Rica (July 8), Canada (July 11), El Salvador (July 14)
Prediction: Second in Group B
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Manager: Miguel Herrera
Best result: Champions (1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2011)
Synopsis: Mexico was dealt a crucial blow with the injury to Javier Hernandez. With pressure mounting on manager Miguel Herrera, it will not help his chances of winning the Gold Cup this summer. On the bright side, Herrera still has Oribe Peralta who can play up front and the in-form Javier Orozco. However, El Tri was hit with another setback after learning that defender Hector Moreno will also miss the tournament. He is arguably the biggest absentee for the Mexicans. Moreno has been a defensive stalwart and is irreplaceable. Mexico is depleted, but it has a deep squad and should be able to qualify for the final. However, if the 2011 champions fail to win it all, Herrera could be out of a job.
Player to watch: Jose Juan Vazquez (Leon)
Schedule: Cuba (July 9), Guatemala (July 12), Trinidad & Tobago (July 15)
Prediction: First in Group C
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Manager: Stephen Hart
Best result: Semifinals (2000)
Synopsis: Trinidad & Tobago received devastating news well in advance of the 2015 Gold Cup. Kevin Molino, one of the national team’s top players and a standout for Orlando City in MLS, tore his ACL in a friendly against Brazilian side Ponte Preta in May. Molino scored three goals for the Soca Warriors at the 2014 Caribbean Cup. It will be difficult to replace the 26-year-old, but the Trinidadians still have a few reliable players. Kenwyne Jones, who’s linked with a move to the Columbus Crew, is Trinidad’s most notable member in the Gold Cup squad. He was the second-leading scorer at the Caribbean Cup with four goals. Joevin Jones has also been a threat on the wing for the Chicago Fire this season. He and Cordell Cato of the San Jose Earthquakes can help carry the load in the final third without Molino.
Player to watch: Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire)
Schedule: Guatemala (July 9), Cuba (July 12), Mexico (July 15)
Prediction: Second in Group C
Manager: Raul Gonzalez
Best result: Quarterfinals (2003, 2013)
Synopsis: Cuba has lost 16 of their 20 Gold Cup games since their first appearance in 1998. However, after advancing to the quarterfinals for just the second time last time out, the Cubans will be optimistic, especially since they’re in a wide-open Group C. Mexico will likely finish in first, but with Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago, the Cubans will be confident that they can qualify for the quarterfinals again. Every player on the 23-man roster plays on the island, including 28-year-old Ariel Martinez, who will be integral to the national team’s success. He scored twice at the 2014 Caribbean Cup and will be the danger man for Cuba in this tournament. Because the squad is unknown, it’s hard to determine where they will finish, so Cuba could be a true dark horse.
Player to watch: Ariel Martinez (FC Sancti Spiritus)
Schedule: Mexico (July 9), Trinidad and Tobago (July 12), Guatemala (July 15)
Prediction: Fourth in Group C
Manager: Ivan Sopegno
Best result: Fourth place (1996)
Synopsis: Guatemala missed out on the 2013 Gold Cup, but the national team has dramatically improved since Ivan Sopegno was named coach. He guided the Guatemalans to the final of the 2014 Central American Cup, which secured a spot in this Gold Cup. Carlos Ruiz, the team’s all-time leader in appearances and goals, along with Marco Pappa, will lead Los Chapines in the tournament. Pappa was awarded with the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards at the Central American Cup last year and is in top form with the Seattle Sounders this season. Given how balanced Group C is, Guatemala’s resurgence could continue on a bigger stage and might lead to an appearance in the knockout stage against one of CONCACAF’s best nations.
Player to watch: Marco Pappa (Seattle Sounders)
Schedule: Trinidad and Tobago (July 9), Mexico (July 12), Cuba (July 15)
Prediction: Third in Group C