The 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup begins on June 5th as a soccer tournament with little yet slowly gaining respect.
The tournament quality has increased, since CONCACAF stopped giving guest invitations after the 2005 tournament. Only competitors within the region have competed since 2007. The tournament allows the teams to get more prepared for 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying which will begin sometime either later this year or in 2012.
The Gold Cup may give teams a chance to get a feel for competitive action at the highest level, it still does not mean that countries who do very well at the Gold Cup are odds on favourites to qualify for the World Cup (i.e. Canada 2000/2007 Gold Cups and Panama 2005 finalist failed to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups).
Let take a look at who are the contenders and dark horses.
The United States of America (U.S.A.)
Winners of four Gold Cups, the U.S.A. Along with Mexico are the two top teams in the region.
The Americans by some by some analysts even the top country in the region (even though this would be disputed by Mexican fans). Led by head coach Bob Bradley, who is in his fifth year as coach, has a very solid squad.
Lead by Los Angeles Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan and midfielder Fulham midfielder Clint Dempsey, the U.S. Looks strong offensively.
With Tim Howard as goalkeeper look for the United States be in the semi finals.
Champions of the Gold Cup five times, El Tri looks to defend the title with a solid nucleus of young players.
Lead by the likes of Javier Hernandez from Manchester United and America Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the squad looks to be there right to the end and compete in the final at the Rose Bowl on June 25th.
With head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, leading the charge, expect Mexico to be proving themselves as the top team in the tournament.
Tri colores, lead by head coach Ricardo LaVolpe is looking at this tournament to redeem themselves after a disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, Costa Rica finished second to Honduras in the 2011 Copa Centroamericana.
Despite the recent setbacks, look for Levolpe’s squad to come out of the firing gates and challenge for their first ever Gold Cup crown.
One of three teams to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup from the CONCACAF region and 2011 Central American champions, the squad looks to be as competitive as they were during World Cup qualifying.
With impact players like attackers Carlos Costly, who was vital in their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, expect this side to be fighting for a semi final birth.
Winners of only one Gold Cup in 2000. Despite not qualifying for the FIFA World Cup since 1986, the squad has had some success in recent years in this tournament.
Canada finished with a bronze in 2002 and lost a heart breaking semi final to the United States in 2007. Lead by head coach Stephen Hart, Canada looks very good as a dark horse.
Talented offensive players like Dwayne DeRosario, Atiba Hutchinson and Julian De Guzman look to provide some fire power, which is apart of the way Stephen Hart has his squad set up.
Lars Hirschfield will provide solid goalkeeping for a team that has always had a strong defence but a slow offense.
The question is will Hart’s squad have the heart to get them through to at least a quarterfinal position.
Anything less than a second round quarterfinal appearance will be disappointing. Anything more than that will be a feather in the cap and a step forward towards 2014 World Cup qualifying.
Winners of the 2010 Caribbean championship, some pundit’s think the team might be one of the most exciting teams this tournament.
Lead by the Caribbean Cup Gold Boot winner Dane Richards from the New York Red Bulls, the team has the offensive weapons to challenge for a quarterfinal spot.
Tie that along with the strong goalkeeping of Los Angeles Galaxy player Donovan Ricketts and the team has enough to get through to the second round.
However, getting to the semi finals would exceed the team’s wildest expectation.
Bronze medalist from the 2011 Copa Centroamericana. Once looked as a baseball only nation, soccer has been growing pedigree in the recent decade.
Finalists in the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the squad also reached the final round of 2006 World Cup qualifying. Despite recent success, the team did not reach the final round of 2010 World Cup qualifying.
An attacking player like Gabriel Torres from San Francisco in the Panama League will lead this squad that could throw a wrench into who will be playing in the quarter finals.
With all the analysis said and done, look for a Mexico and Costa Rica final at the Rose Bowl on June 25th.
Mexico will hoist their second straight trophy. Canada or Jamaica will be the biggest surprises of the tournament if one of them makes it to the semis.
Don’t count out a long shot like Guadeloupe either. The biggest disappointment of the tournament could be the United States if they don’t make it to the final.
Let the fun begin on June 5th. I know I will have my DVD recorder on overtime.
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