By Morgan J. Wolf
The Gold Cup is always a great chance to see where the talent in North American and Caribbean soccer is, but this year’s edition will be a time to observe the up and coming talent from some of the region’s other teams. For the first time in a number of years, there is no clear favorite going into the tournament due to a glaring absence of many name recognition-worthy players.
For instance, Mexico will field an inexperienced team that will not include the likes of Javier Hernández, Andrés Guardado, Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos, Guillermo Ochoa, Rafael Márquez and others. Instead, manager Juan Carlos Osorio is opting for a team whose most experienced player will be goalkeeper José de Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul). Mexico won’t have too much to worry about, with the emergency inclusion of Erick “Cubo” Torres (Houston Dynamo), who replaces Guadalajara’s now-injured Alan Pulido. Mexico also have Rodolfo Pizarro, who was a standout performer at last year’s Olympics. In addition, the team will feature Luis Reyes (Atlas), who performed honorably at the Confederations Cup in place of the injured Carlos Salcedo.
In terms of chemistry, Osorio will have his work cut out for him in terms of making sure all of these players who’ve rarely played together can do so cohesively. Mexico will also enter the tournament as the only team out of 12 whose players all ply their trade in the domestic league. However, this could potentially change if Osorio decides to call up substitutes after the group stage is over as will be the rule in this year’s Gold Cup, should he choose to invoke it.
Canada will make its return to the tournament and field a team that should be fully capable of advancing to the knockout stage. Behind the efforts of the experienced Tosaint Ricketts (Toronto FC), Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City) and Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), this team has ample ability to do well. Along with these veterans, the 17-year-old MLS standout Alphonso Davies (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), who only has one cap for his country, will play, and he will provide pace along the flanks, something that might help push Canada over the edge and help their teammates become big international players.
Costa Rica enters the Gold Cup with far and away the most combined international experience, with 14 players that have at least 30 international appearances. This bodes well for good team harmony, as many of the teams in the tournament will be fielding much more inexperienced squads. The only notable absence from the roster is goalkeeper Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), which could potentially leave a huge void in the team. However, the likely starter in goal will be Patrick Pemberton (Alajuelense), and he’s experienced enough to give Costa Rica confidence. Additionally, the combined efforts of players like Bryan Ruiz (Sporting CP), Joel Campbell (Arsenal), and Cristian Gamboa (Celtic) should be able to give the Costa Ricans the resoluteness they need to succeed.
In the case of Jamaica, an often-overlooked team, they will have the advantage of having one of the finest goalkeepers in MLS on their side in Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union). They have proven their ability to compete before, reaching the final of the previous Gold Cup, leaving the U.S. in their wake. Behind striker Darron Mattocks (Portland Timbers) and phenomenal left-back Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls), Jamaica will be well equipped thanks to their penchant for outpacing their competition and will attempt to replicate their success in the last Gold Cup.
In terms of the rest of the field, there are a few notable players, such as French Guiana’s Florent Malouda. Yes, this is the same Florent Malouda who made his name as one of the best midfielders to ever grace Stanford Bridge, home of England’s Chelsea FC and now plays in India for the Delhi Dynamos. Also, Curaçao, who return to the Gold Cup for the first time in over 40 years, will field Everton’s Cuco Martina, an electrifying wing-back who has the ability to inject startling pace into any team he plays for.
Simply put, the 2017 Gold Cup will be an amazing opportunity to see what the state of North American and Caribbean soccer is and should be an exciting competition to watch.