Gold Cup Challengers: Which nation can make noise in June?
While the Gold Cup has traditionally been a battle between Mexico and the United States the coming edition has the best chance to yield a different finalist in quite some time. Honduras, Costa Rica, Canada and Jamaica are all legitimate threats in the tournament and are capable of beating either favorite in a knockout stage game.
Let’s look at the group of challengers and see what they offer and how much of a threat they are for the cup.
Honduras is an interesting case. They’re a team that qualified for the 2010 World Cup but couldn’t make noise in South Africa. A talented group that boasts a number European based players, the Catrachos have improved over the past five years. Fresh off winning the UNCAF Cup, Honduras is looking to make a statement on a bigger stage ahead of next year’s start to World Cup qualifying.
Chances in the Gold Cup: Of the group behind the United States and Mexico they’re the best in my opinion. They have experience in big matches both individually and internationally coming off the World Cup. They took care of business in UNCAF and should be a shoe-in to make the knockout stage and are the favorite in group B. Not having young star Andy Najar (DC United) will hurt but they’re ability to attack – especially on the counter – make them a danger in a match against either of the favorites.
One Jonathan Bornstein header away from a trip to South Africa, Costa Rica is looking to take the next step at the Gold Cup where they lost in the semi-finals of the 2009 Gold Cup to Mexico in penalty kicks so the motivation is there for Ricardo La Volpe’s squad. The team has a number of quality players and benefits from a strong domestic system and clubs such as Saprissa providing good talent to support a quality forward tandem in FC Twente’s Bryan Ruiz and Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio.
Top players: Saborio and Ruiz
Chances in the Gold Cup: If this tournament was played in home stadiums they would have the second best advantage – after Mexico at Azteca. The Ticos are tough to beat at home but have not exactly been road warriors in the region. Still the duo of Saborio and Ruiz should keep them in a match against the better teams. They’re a sure bet to qualify for the knockout stage but have the much better Mexico in their group and are not a legit threat to get the finals, in my opinion.
This is a team that could scare some people. The Canadians have always had talent but never been able to put it together for one reason or another. For the summer they will be led by talisman Dwayne De Rosario (Red Bull New York) in the attack and have Julian De Guzman (Toronto FC) patrolling the midfield and breakout Houston Dynamo defender Andre Hainault adding an aerial threat to their backline; the Canadians can make some noise in this summer’s tournament. An opening match against the United States will tell a lot about how the team will do in the tournament.
Top players: Atiba Hutchinson (PSV), De Rosario, De Guzman, Rob Friend (Hertha Berlin)
Chances in the Gold Cup: The Canadians are in the United States’ group so they are projected to finish second but they’re favored to make it to the knockout stages. The question is can they finally take the next step and be a real threat? They got a good result against Belarus earlier this year but can they turn that talent into production in the tournament? In my opinion, yes but I’ll have to see it to believe it.
If there’s a team that could be a surprise in the tournament it’s Jamaica. Coming off a win in the Digicel Caribbean Cup, the Reggae Boyz is another team that’s looking to take another step and make their presence known ahead of World Cup qualifying. The team has a good backline and can be dangerous with a speedy attack. Athletically there’re a very good team and have some dangerous weapons along with a solid backline.
Top players: Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids), Luton Shelton (Valerenga), Dane Richards (Red Bull New York), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo)
Chances in the Gold Cup: Of all the teams mentioned here the Jamaicans are the most dangerous in my opinion. They have speed and athleticism to make teams pay on the counter and have several technically sound players. Can they keep up with the big boys depth will be the big question. They should go toe-to-toe with Honduras in their group but are favored to make the knockout stage. In a one game match they will be a dangerous matchup for any team in the tournament.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com and is a contributor to Soccerlens.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.