FIFA Ranking: 109
Qualification: North America/Co-hosts, Automatic
Appearance: 12th / Best Finish: Champions (2000)
Player To Watch: FWD Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC, USA) - Okay, so this is another homer pick for the former top overall draft pick out of the University of Connecticut. But despite that, Larin has already notched three international goals in his first seven appearances for Canada.
Tournament Outlook: I apologize in advance to all Canadian soccer fans for the following video.
That was the wonder strike from Martinique's Fabrice Reuperne that sank Canada in stoppage time of their first group stage match back in 2013. Canada ended that tournament with a single point, a scoreless draw against Panama who only needed a point to clinch the group anyway. Canada's free fall down the CONCACAF ladder saw them enter in the second round of 2018 World Cup qualifying and an aggregate series against Dominica. And while a four game winning streak over Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Dominica isn't exactly earth shattering, compared to where Canada was two years ago it's a drastic improvement and they have a legitimate chance to get into the knockout stages and scare someone in the quarterfinals.
FIFA Ranking: 14
Qualification: 2014 Copa Centroamericana, Champions
Appearance: 12th / Best Finish: Runners-up (2002)
Player To Watch: FWD Bryan Ruiz (Sporting CP, POR) - First off, Ruiz is coming off a splendid World Cup where he led Costa Rica with two goals and Los Ticos made the quarterfinals. He also just completed a deal with Sporting CP, the New England Revolution's affiliate/partner in Portugal.
Tournament Outlook: If we're being honest, Costa Rica got the short end of the stick in this one. They're the highest ranked team in the region and yet have the toughest road to the championship in the knockout rounds. If they win the group they could be on pace to play Honduras or Panama in quarters (runner-up in Group A) the USA in the semis and Mexico in the finals. Not exactly the draw you'd expect the top seeded team to get but for all of Costa Rica's recent success in World Cup and The Hex, they've managed only one semi-finals appearance in the Gold Cup in the past decade losing to Mexico on penalties in 2009. This is a team that can compete for the title and not as a darkhorse either, but they have been knocked out in the quarterfinals of the last two tournaments by Honduras in the quarterfinals.
FIFA Ranking: 89
Qualification: Copa Centroamericana, Fourth Place
Appearance: 9th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002, 2003, 2011, 2013)
Player To Watch: FWD Rafael Burgos (Fredrikstad FK, NOR) - There's not a lot of offense on this El Salvador roster but Burgos has a good amount of experience at both the club level and internationally. Spent a brief time on loan at Minnesota United of the NASL late in 2014 as well.
Tournament Outlook: El Salvador is nothing if not consistent in their international tournament appearances recently. They've made the quarterfinals of the last two Gold Cups and are a regular in the first round robin stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, even qualified for the The Hex back in 2010. It's strange to consider them minnows, because that's not exactly the case and this is a team I have a lot of respect for. But this is a tough group and they're going to have to beat someone in order to get out back to the quarters for a third straight time. If they advance as a third place team it likely means a date with either the USA or Mexico, the main reason for why they would be one and done in the knockout stages.
FIFA Ranking: 65
Qualification: 2014 Caribbean Cup, Champions
Appearance: 9th / Best Finish: Third (1993)
Roster Breakdown: 2 Domestic, 11 USA/Canada, 9 England, 1 Sweden
Player To Watch: FWD Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps, CAN) - This is another very young team and Mattocks is their most experienced attacker 8 goals in 24 for appearances for his country.
Tournament Outlook: It's surprising to see Jamaica's recent Gold Cup history not more "did not qualify" tags and zero semifinal appearances. Dating back to 2007 Jamaica has qualified for the Gold Cup only twice in in 2009 and 2011 making only the quarters in 11'. This is a team coming off a decent showing at the CONEMBOL Copa America where they lost three 1-0 games to Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina which as far as I'm concerned is pretty good. This isn't as consistent as I think they should be, but they'll be a tough out for someone in the knockout stages which I think they'll get to this year.
GROUP SCHEDULE (all times Eastern)
Wednesday, July 8: StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
8:00 p.m.: Costa Rica vs. Jamaica (Fox Sports 2, UniMás, Univision Deportes)
10:30 p.m.: El Salvador vs. Canada (Fox Sports 2, UniMás, Univision Deportes)
Saturday, July 11: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas
6:30 p.m.: Jamaica vs. Canada (Fox Sports 2, UniMás, Univision Deportes
9:00 p.m.: Costa Rica vs. El Salvador (Fox Sports 2, UniMás, Univision Deportes)
Tuesday, July 14: Group B doubleheader at BMO Field, Toronto, Ont.
6:00 p.m.: Jamaica vs. El Salvador (Fox Sports 1, UniMás, Univision Deportes)
8:30 p.m.: Canada vs. Costa Rica (Fox Sports 1, UniMás, Univision Deportes)
KEY MATCHUPS - Costa Rica vs. Jamaica, El Salvador vs. Canada
The first matches later tonight are very important for everyone involved but for very different reasons. Costa Rica and Jamaica want to set the tone for their campaigns and getting a positive result off their best opponent would likely set up the winner of that match to win the group. El Salvador and Canada need a win to help their chances at a third place finish and this is the best opportunity for both teams to get it. A draw likely means beating Jamaica at some point as I see Costa Rica getting all six points from those two games.
This has a chance to be just as competitive as Group A as far as close matches and a tough test for Costa Rica as the group favorites. A strong start for Los Ticos against Jamaica should take the pressure off just a bit for thier next two games but I do see Costa Rica topping the group, undefeated on nine points. While I think Jamaica is the second best team, they are not a lock to finish in that spot. Both El Salvador and Canada are worthy of the knockout stages though I don't think they can advance much further than that. Jamaica's inconsistent record, especially at the Gold Cup makes me hesitant to pencil them in for an automatic quarterfinals spot with a second place finish. But while I respect El Salvador and Canada's recent revival I think that's the smart move.
1. Costa Rica 2. Jamaica 3. Canada (*-advances to QF) 4. El Salvador