It’s not quite the “Summer of Soccer” of 2016 that featured a massive Copa America and Euro 2016, but 2017 is no slouch in producing international soccer tournaments. The Confederations Cup ended not long ago, with Germany’s B-team preventing Chile from winning a third straight major tourney, and the newest addition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup is coming up this July. The latter tournament is what we’re here to talk about.
For the uninitiated, the biennial Gold Cup includes the national teams of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. 12 teams participate: the three North American nations (U.S., Canada, Mexico), four qualifying Central American teams from the 2017 Copa Centroamerica, four qualifying Caribbean sides from the 2017 Caribbean Cup, and another Central American team or Caribbean nation, determined through a playoff.
The United States is the host, and has hosted the large majority of Gold Cup matches since the founding of the current iteration in 1991. Canada got some games in 2015, and Mexico co-hosted in 2003 and 1993, but otherwise it’s always the U.S., and that is no different this year. 14 American cities will host games, the majority of which also house NFL teams.
Starting with the basics, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about the 2017 Gold Cup:
With 12 participating teams, there are three groups of four squads each.
Honduras, Costa Rica, Canada, French Guiana
United States, Panama, Martinique, Nicaragua
Mexico, Jamaica, El Salvador, Curacao
The top two teams from each group automatically are through to the quarterfinals, while the top two third-place sides also advance.
Notably absent squads include Trinidad and Tobago (who topped Mexico in the group stage two years ago), Guatemala (who weren’t allowed to participate due to FIFA sanctions), and Haiti, who were serious competitors in the 2015 competition. Trinidad and Haiti failed to qualify out of the Caribbean zone, with Haiti falling to Nicaragua in a final qualifying playoff.
Curacao and French Guiana will make their Gold Cup debuts.
As for the referees, MLS fans will recognize the names of Jair Marrufo, Mark Geiger, Armando Villareal, and Drew Fischer. MLS assistant refs include Corey Rockwell, Charles Morgante, and Frank Anderson.
How to watch
Fox Sports has the rights to this tournament, and will have English-language broadcasts of every match in the US. Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, and FXX all have games, and you can watch live on Fox Sports Go with TV provider authentication. Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com has the TV schedule here.
Many of you may not get FS2. If you don’t, blame Fox and call your TV provider. You probably will get FXX, as noted in the article linked in Tannenwald’s article. Even if you don’t get either of those channels, you may still be able to watch the games on Univision and Unimas, who have the Spanish-language rights. In Canada, TSN (English) and RDS (French) broadcast the games.
Alberth Elis (Honduras): After a red-hot start to his MLS career for the Houston Dynamo — he scored six goals and added three assists in 11 starts after signing in the winter — Elis will lead a speedy Honduran team that will look to back up their Copa Centroamerica victory with a deep Gold Cup run.
Elis, alongside another Dynamo winger, Romell Quioto, will play every game with the intention of getting out on the counter and hurting opponents in transition. Another Houston player, Oscar Boniek Garcia, will distribute from central midfield, and Barcelona B forward Anthony Lozano will be the goal-scorer.
Los Catrachos are always a competitor in these tournaments, and if they are able to get out of their group and then beat (likely) one of Panama, El Salvador, or Jamaica in the quarterfinal, they’ll need Elis to be in goal-scoring form.
Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Canada): The Canadians got stuck in a tough group. They’ll have to get results against Honduras and Costa Rica to have a chance of avoiding another major Gold Cup disappointment.
Their top player, Orlando City No. 9 Cyle Larin, will not be participating this year, a tough break for a team that is just now seeing a talented young MLS-based core emerge. Players like 21-year old Raheem Edwards, 16-year old Alphonso Davies, and, notably, the 23-year old Jackson-Hamel will enter the fray alongside Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, and others.
Montreal’s Jackson-Hamel has found a consistent role in MLS this season, playing consistently scoring and multiple goals, often as an attacking super-sub. He’ll likely be Larin’s direct replacement, playing alongside the speedy channel-runner Ricketts up top. His ability to grab some goals be something close to the active No. 9 Larin is will be crucial to Canada’s chances of scoring a quarterfinal spot.
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica): It was a disappointment for Costa Rica not to win the Copa Centroamerica, considering they are pretty clearly the best national team in the region, but it’s all too big of a deal, as they are safely into the Gold Cup and should have no problem scooting into the quarterfinals, even with a relatively tough group.
Real Madrid goalkeeper and international star Keylor Navas is not on their squad this year, but Arsenal sensation Joel Campbell is, and we can expect him to play a big role in Los Ticos’ quest to win a trophy this summer. He is a dynamic, fast attacker with more of an international pedigree than most other players participating in this tournament.
When you play for Arsenal, you’re expected to be pretty good. Campbell should be — note should be — in contention for the Golden Boot. But other attacking stars are on Costa Rica’s squad as well, like Johan Venegas and Rodney Wallace, that could steal his spotlight.
The biggest storylines
The success of the minnows: The Gold Cup is notorious for the opportunities it provides smaller CONCACAF nations, and with two newcomers and a couple more lesser-known entrants, the 2017 edition will be no different.
Curacao, a Dutch overseas territory in the Caribbean, have spent less than a decade as their own national team, playing as the Netherlands Antilles for years along with Bonaire and Aruba before the dissolution of the territory, allowing Curacao to compete on its own in sporting competitions. They are a talented baseball country — producing a few MLB stars, like Andrelton Simmons and Jurickson Profar — and are now growing into a potent soccer nation, winning the Caribbean Cup in June.
The other newcomers, French Guiana, feature a number of French-based and former French-international players, including former Chelsea star Florent Malouda. Martinique, another French overseas territory, saw their Francophone counterparts Guadeloupe make a run to the semifinals in 2007, and will be looking to emulate that in their fifth Gold Cup appearance.
Nicaragua are the other clear minnows. Baseball is the most popular sport in the impoverished Central American country, and this is only their second Gold Cup appearance, having dropped out in the group stage in 2009. They are grouped with Martinique in Group B, so it’s entirely possible that either of them could sneak out of the group stage.
A Mexico team in disarray: El Tri are led by their own (possibly worse) version of Jurgen Klinsmann: consistent tinkerer Juan Carlos Osorio. They managed a semifinal appearance at the Confederations Cup, but that mostly was thanks to the fact that they didn’t have too much competition (Cameroon, New Zealand, Australia, Russia), and once they got to the semifinal, Germany flattened them. Make no mistake: this is not a team in an especially good place right now.
Because most of Mexico’s big guns were in Russia in June, JCO’s Gold Cup roster is a youth-oriented, experimental B team. Of course, the U.S. squad is far from a first team as well.
Their final 23-man roster includes 22 Mexico-based players. Only one, Houston Dynamo breakout goal-scorer Erick “Cubo” Torres, plays outside of Liga MX, and he was just recently added as an injury replacement for Chivas Guadalajara forward Alan Pulido.
In addition, Osorio isn’t even going to be in the Gold Cup. An outburst with the fourth official at the Confederations Cup resulted in a six-match suspension and will miss the Gold Cup. So this brings up an interesting catch-22. If Mexico loses, this may actually help Osorio’s case because it would show he’s needed. If they now win, he’s non-essential and Mexico may realize they’re better off without him.
Central American dark-horses: As is common in Gold Cups, the U.S. and Mexico enter as the clear favorites. Only once has a country other than those two rivals won this tournament, and that was 17 years ago, when Canada beat Colombia in the final.
The team with the best chance to buck the trend is Costa Rica, a team with plenty of world-class talent and enough stars to run a shorthanded Mexico or the US out of the water in a knockout game — just look at what they did to the Americans last November in World Cup qualifying, in Klinsmann’s final disaster.
But also look at Panama and Honduras, counter-attacking CONCACAF teams with a rough-and-tumble and skillful Central American pedigree. They both feature a number of MLS players, and each should have no trouble advancing out of their groups. From there, who knows what could happen?