Why USA And Mexico May Not Win The Gold Cup

Costa Rica may be favorites above the US, Mexico to win the final in Philadelphia
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, July 02, 2015

It’s almost that time. The CONCACAF Gold Cup begins on Tuesday, and it doesn’t feel like the usual USA-Mexico Invitational that it tends to become.

A doubleheader in Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex. (the home of FC Dallas) gets things going, as Panama play Haiti and the United States takes on Honduras. That begins the nearly three-week tournament, with the final being played this time on July 26 in Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

This is a bigger Gold Cup than in the past, mainly because more stadiums are being used. In all, matches will be played in 14 locations (the previous three editions were played in 13 different stadiums), including the first-ever Gold Cup matches to be played in Canada (July 14 at Toronto’s BMO Field).

Three groups of four teams each make up the first stage, with each team playing the other three, in three different cities. In Group A, the USA, Haiti, Honduras and Panama will play in Frisco, Foxborough (Gillette Stadium) and Kansas City Sporting Park). Group B has Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Jamaica, and will play their matches in Carson, Cal. (StubHub Center), Houston (BBVA Compass Stadium) and Toronto. Group C, featuring Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago, will play in Chicago (Soldier Field), Glendale, Ariz. (University of Phoenix Stadium) and Charlotte (Bank of America Stadium).

The top two teams in each group, and the two best third-place teams, then go on to the quarterfinals, being held in Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium) and East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium). The semifinals will be in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, and the final in Philadelphia.

For the first time in 12 years, there will be a third-place game. That will be played at the home of the Philadelphia Union, PP&L Park in Chester, PA.

Mexico has won the Gold Cup the most, with six trophies in their possession (their last win was in 2011). The USA comes in next with five, and they are the defending champions. The only other country to win the Gold Cup is Canada, as they took the trophy home in 2000

Often, the Gold Cup is somewhat of the forgotten continental championship. With Copa America in Chile ending this weekend, Australia having won the Asian Cup in January and Côte d'Ivoire winning the African Cup of Nations in February, anyone outside of CONCACAF’s coverage area could be excused for forgetting that the Gold Cup was happening. That the US and Mexico dominate most of the time doesn’t help it, either.

This time, though, this Gold Cup likely won’t end up looking like the USA-Mexico Invitational that it often turns out to be. Costa Rica is coming off of its amazing quarterfinal run in last year’s World Cup, and many of that team will be in the back for the Ticos this time. They are trying to make it back to the final for the first time since 2002 (Costa Rica’s only Gold Cup final appearance), and may be seen as at least the co-favorites going into the tournament, if not the outright favorites.

Panama made the final in 2013, and has steadily become one of the tougher teams to beat in CONCACAF. They are also the only other team besides Mexico and the USA to make the final in any of the last five tournaments (they were also in the 2005 final), so it’s

Others could surprise, as well. If they’re on, Honduras can also be a threat, and Guatemala has surprised at times. Canada is once again the great mystery, with the potential to make a bit of noise if they can somehow follow up on their good start to their World Cup qualifying campaign. The top two Caribbean sides, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, also could make a run if all goes right.

The team going into the Gold Cup with the lowest FIFA ranking (as occasionally dubious as it is)? That is Canada, currently placed at 109th (Cuba is the next lowest, at 107th). Costa Rica is the highest ranked team in the Gold Cup at 14th, while Mexico is 23rd and the USA is at 27th. Everyone else is ranked between 54 and 93.

This Gold Cup will have more at stake than usual. If a team other than the USA wins, then they will go into a playoff with the Americans for a spot in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. If the US wins again, they go straight into the event.

There are also spots in next year’s Copa América Centenario up for grabs, giving many teams a chance to take part in the first-ever all-Americas tournament (if it still happens…the FIFA scandal may derail those plans). Currently, four teams from CONCACAF have qualified; the United States (the hosts), Mexico (automatic qualifiers), Costa Rica (2014 Copa Centroamericana champions) and Jamaica (2014 Caribbean Cup champions). The two other spots in Copa América Centenario from CONCACAF will be filled by those playing in the Gold Cup, either by a four-team playoff with the top teams remaining in the event outside of the four who have already qualified, or by one team making a miracle run to the Gold Cup championship (thus qualifying for the Copa América Centenario) and the top two highest-ranked non-qualified teams going into a playoff for the last CONCACAF spot.

So there’s more to play for than usual this time in the Gold Cup. It may also be the first time that the USA and Mexico aren’t considered the prohibitive favorites, as Costa Rica joins them as a legitimate title threat. It also feels like a Gold Cup that could spring a surprise or two. After all, Panama made the final two years ago and Honduras always feels like they underachieve in the Gold Cup. The unknown of teams like Canada and Jamaica also could make things livelier than usual, especially with Canada playing a home Gold Cup match for the first time.

And that makes this CONCACAF Gold Cup feel much more wide open than usual. 

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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