2021 Gold Cup Preview

By Andrew Dixon, Staff Reporter

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With the Copa América deciding its championship with another Brazil-Argentina
classico tonight and England looking to capture its first senior title since the Johnson Administration
home soil against Italy in the final of Euro 2021 tomorrow, soccer fans in the Caribbean and North and
Central America will begin to refocus their gaze over the coming weeks on the Gold Cup.

The tournament will be played in six stadiums across the state of Texas: Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, Toyota
Stadium in Frisco, TX, the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, NRG Stadium in Houston, Q2 Stadium in Austin and
BBVA Stadium in Houston. Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park will host the US’ first round matches
against Haiti, Martinique and Canada. Exploria Stadium in Orlando will host first round matches as well.
State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ will host a pair of quarterfinal matches and the final will played in
Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium on August 1.


The Favorites: Who Are the Kings of CONCACAF?

Despite falling to the US in the inaugural Nations League championship, That Team Down South remains
the favorite to repeat as champions. The eleven-time champions have named a near full strength squad
and will be looking to integrate newly naturalized Rogelio Funes Mori into the squad as they look
forward to World Cup qualifying beginning this fall. The exclusion of all-time leading scorer and LA
Galaxy forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has caused a minor controversy and stalwarts Andres
Guardado and Memo Ochoa were given a break.

But Tata Martino has still called in several big names including forward Hrving “El Chucky” Lozano (Napoli, ITL) Hector Herrera (Atlético Madrid), Jesus Corona who was excellent against the US in the Nations’ League Final (Porto) and Carlos Salcedo. El Enemigo finishes their group stage matches against Central American foes Guatemala and El Salvador and won’t have to leave the Dallas area before the quarterfinals. This is essentially El Enemigo’s tournament to lose given the strength of their squad, and they will be a bit fired up after losing in last month’s final to the
US.

The US, who raised the last of their five Gold Cups four years ago, will be using this tournament to see
which players are ready to compete for World Cup qualifying spots alongside the likes of Christian
Pulisic, Weston McKennie, John Brooks and other first team regulars who have returned to their
European sides to begin pre-season training. The MLS-heavy side features eight Black players amongst
the 23 players chosen, including Columbus’ Gyasi Zardes who will be called upon to lead the attack,
Darryl Dike of Orlando City fresh off an impressive loan spell with Barnsely in England’s Championship
(2 nd Division) Kellyn Acosta who will look to cement a defensive midfield role ahead qualifying this fall
and Reggie Cannon of Boavista in Portugal who will compete for a spot as an outside defender. DC
United’s Paul Arriola will be looking to reestablish a place on the front line after returning from injury,
LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastien Lletget should see plenty of time in a playmaking role.

Expectations will be high for The Squad as they look to follow up their National League title with a solid
tournament at home and maintain their momentum for World Cup qualifying in the fall.


Next Up? I Believe That’s Me


Canada, drawn into Group B along with the US, suffered a major setback on the eve of the tournament
when Bayern Munich’s Alfonso Davies was ruled out due to an ankle injury suffered in training on
Tuesday. Already bringing a relatively inexperienced side, the Canadians will rely on veterans like
Jonathan Orsorio and former MLS product Cyle Larin (Besiktas, Turkey) to guide newcomers like Ayo
Akinola (Toronto FC) who represented the US on the youth level but qualifies for Canada having lived
there most of his life. Without Davies, a title run may be unlikely, but they should have enough to qualify
for the knockout rounds behind the US, whom they beat in a Nations League group stage match.

The Reggae Boyz of Jamaica will fly the flag for the Caribbean nations as they look to match their
second place finishes in 2015 and 2017 where they lost to El Enemigo and the US respectively. Drawn
into Group C with Costa Rica, they should easily qualify for the quarterfinals with a possible matchup
against the US. GK Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union) and forward Leon Bailey (Beyer Leverkusen)
highlight 1998 World Cup hero Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore’s relatively inexperienced squad as they
continue to build cohesion and momentum for World Cup qualifying. Wingback Kemar Lawrence
(Toronto FC) is the most experienced defender with 60+ caps to his name and keep an eye on Shamar
Nicholson, who scored nine goals in 33 matches with R. Charleroi SC in Belgium. Despite their
inexperience, Jamaica should have little problem qualifying out of this group.


The Catrachos of Honduras, should easily top Group D. They gave the US all it could handle during its
Nations League semifinal and will look to make a deep run in a tournament they have not won since
1981, long before its current format. Longtime stalwart Maynor Figueroa continues the marshal the
back line for Honduras and will make his seventh tournament appearance while Jerry Bengston and
Albert Elith will lead the attack. The quarterfinals have long been the stumbling block for this side but
they’ll have no problem getting there with only a group stage match up against Panama as their only
test.


Meanwhile, 2014 World Cup quarterfinalists Costa Rica have been struggling as of late, coming into the
tournament with an 11-game winless streak during which they’ve only scored six goals. Goalkeeping
legend Keylor Navas is out for this tournament, but the Ticos do boast familiar names such as Kendall
Watson, Brian Oviedo, Celso Borges, Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. Ariel Lassiter, son of former US
International Roy Lassiter, and Nashville SC’s Randall Leal are on the squad as well and will look to
cement their places in the midfield as World Cup qualifying looms. Costa Rica’s first real test will be its
final group stage match against Jamaica in Orlando, where both teams will want to finish first to avoid a
potential match up with the US.

What about the Caribbean?

Six sides from the Caribbean Football Union qualified for the tournament. However due to a COVID
breakout debutants Curaçao had to drop out and were replaced by Guatemala.
“CONCACAFED” by the officiating in 2019 against Mexico, Haiti qualified for this year’s tournament with
a 3-0 win over Bermuda in the recently completed play-in tournament. Duckens Nazon is the upfront
threat for the Haitian side and Fratzdy Pierrot’s hattrick sent them into an opening round matchup
against the US. They beat Canada in 2019 and with the latter missing Davies and the current domestic
crisis fueling their desire to bring joy back home, a surprise berth into the quarterfinals is not entirely
out of the question.


The Soca Warriors also qualified through the play-in tournament, beating French Guyana on penalties
and will be looking to resurrect their program after being knocked out of World Cup qualifying earlier
this year. Alvin Jones returns for Coach Angus Eve who will also rely on the likes of Kevin Molino
(Columbus Crew) and Reon Moore to qualify out of Group A behind Mexico.

Guadeloupe, coached by Jocelyn Angloma makes its return to the tournament since a group stage exit
11 years ago. Another play-in qualifier, no one on the team has more than 20 caps. Raphael Mirval will
lead the attack having scored 8 times in 12 appearances while Ronan Hauterville is the most
experienced defender with 14 appearances.


Martinique makes their third consecutive appearance, with their best finish being a quarterfinal loss to
Canada on penalties back in 2002. They have plenty of experience in the midfield through the likes of
Daniel Herelle, Stephane Abaul and Karl Vitulin as well as defense with Sebastien Cretinoir but goal
scoring will be a challenge for this side, as its striker corps boasts just seven goals between them.
Suriname makes its Gold Cup debut in Group C. Known primarily as the birthplace and ancestral home
of most of Holland’s Blacks players, they have several players with experience in Europe.

Gleofilo Vlijter and Dimitrie Apai are the most experienced strikers, domestically based Sershino Eduard will command
the midfield and captain Ryan Donk (Galatasaray) Albert Nibte and Andul Amoeferie will patrol the back.
Grenada round out the Caribbean sides, making their first appearance since 2011 when they were
eliminated in the Group Stage. Another inexperience side, Jamal Charles (14 goals, 27 appearances) will
be the main target main for the Spice Boyz. Deandre Smith, Irvine Smith and Kwazim Theodore will be
key in the midfield for a side with a longshot of advancing out of Group D

While Mexico is the class of Group A Guatemala, handed a lifeline after Curaçao’s withdrawal, El
Salvador and T&T will all fancy their chances for that second spot. Look for some highly competitive
matches there. 2022 World Cup hosts and current Asian Cup champions Qatar are competing as a guest
team in Group D. Hassan Al-Haydos has 31 goals in 141 appearances and Abdelkarim Hassan is a threat
to score out of the back. They should not be dismissed either.


Though it lacks the glamor and star power of the Copa América and Euro 2020, the Gold Cup will
nonetheless, be a passionately contested tournament. While this writer’s heart is, of course, with the
US, it’ll be a major surprise if El Enemigo does not claim another title.

Based in Tallahassee, Andrew L. Dixon, III has contributed soccer
articles to BASN since 2004. He previously authored a column for the US Soccer Players.com website
and attended the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He can be reached at Golnoir@aol.com

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