The 2017 Gold Cup kicks off on Friday as 12 teams from North and Central America will vie to see who will be crowned the top team in CONCACAF. As usual, the United States and Mexico will be the favorites in a field that also includes Canada, Costa Rica, Curacao, El Salvador, French Guiana, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Both the U.S. and Mexico are fielding what have been described as B-teams this summer. Mexico sent it’s A-listers to the Confederations Cup last month, while USMNT boss Bruce Arena has chose to rest the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic and Tim Howard.
With the stars left on the sidelines for now – teams can make wholesale changes to their rosters following the group stage – Arena is using the tournament’s initial phase as a chance to bring in new blood. English-born striker Dom Dwyer, who recently became a U.S. citizen, is representing the Yanks for the first time. The Sporting Kansas City man scored in the Americans’ 2-1 friendly win over Ghana and could lead the line in a strike force that also includes Seattle Sounders’ Jordan Morris and Juan Agudelo of New England Revolution.
The U.S. lineup features a smattering of regulars like midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, defenders Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. But Arena has also made some notable inclusions like Chelsea center-back Matt Miazga, Nottingham Forest right-back Eric Lichaj and Club Tijuana midfielders Joe Corona and Paul Arriola.
Apart from Santos Laguna defender Jorge Villafana, the rest of the roster is rounded out by MLS players; with LA Galaxy attacker Gysasi Zardes, Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty and Kansas City defender Matt Besler being perhaps the most recognizable names.
The USMNT were drawn in Group B, along with Martinique, Panama and Nicaragua. Panama finished third in the competition two years ago and are favorites to follow the U.S. out of the group into the knockout rounds.
Despite calling up a young, largely unproven squad, Mexico are strong favorites in a Group C that’s rounded out by Curacao, El Salvador and Jamaica. With the likes of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and Memo Ochoa used for the Confederations Cup, the standout names on El Tri’s Gold Cup roster include Jesus Corona, Jesus Duenas, Luis Reyes and Orbelin Pineda. Apart from Houston Dynamo striker Erick “Cubo” Torres, El Tri’s roster consists entirely of Mexico-based players.
With only six players in the squad on more than 10 caps – Jesus Corona, Moises Munoz, Hugo Ayala, Jesus Molina, Elias Hernandez and Jesus Duenas – this is a selection of players that’s been described as building towards the future. But with promising attacking talents like Torres and Leon striker Elias Hernandez, Mexico certainly doesn’t lack the quality to make a deep run in the tournament, with most expecting the July 26th final to be a clash between El Tri and hosts, the U.S.A.
Of the other teams in the tournament, Costa Rica is arguably the strongest. It’s been a few years now since the Ticos’ breakout campaign at the 2014 World Cup. This team is nowhere near as strong as that one, but nonetheless features quality players, like Arsenal attacker Joel Campbell, NYCFC attacker Rodney Wallace and Palermo defender Giancarlo Gonzalez.
Jamaica upset the U.S. two years ago to steal a place in the final against Mexico. But the Reggae Boyz are in rebuilding mode at the moment with a roster highlighted by MLS players like Portland Timbers striker Darren Mattocks, NY Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence and Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake.
Canada, who have failed to score in the last two Gold Cups, have set a more humble objective this summer. While soccer fans to the north wouldn’t mind a run to the knockout stages, Canada’s new coach Octavio Zambrano intends to set his team out with the simple goal of finding the back of the net. Drawn in Group A along with Costa Rica, French Guiana and Honduras, Canada certainly have a shot at ending their scoring drought in the tournament. Although they may find their passage out of the group stage blocked by the likes of Costa Rica and Honduras.
While some are dismissive of the “off-year” Gold Cup that takes place the year before the World Cup, there is definitely something to play for in this tournament. In addition to being crowned kings of CONCACAF, the winner of the tournament will take a significant step towards qualification for the 2021 Confederations Cup.
You can watch the USA’s Gold Cup opener against Panama, this Saturday, July 8 at 4:30 p.m. EST on Fox.
Mexico’s opener against El Salvador will air live on Sunday, July 9 at 9:30 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.
Every match in the tournament will be aired across the Fox family of networks. Click to view the full schedule.