I noticed something in the standings of this year’s Gold Cup tournament - there isn’t a single undefeated team in the quarterfinals.
There’s plenty of unbeaten teams, as a staggering six teams did not lose a match in group play, but there aren’t any teams that won all three group stage games. I actually wondered when the last time a Gold Cup did not feature a team that picked up nine points/three victories in group play was and dove into some research.
Turns out, winning all three group games is a lot harder than I thought. It didn’t happen at all in 2015 but we had six unbeaten teams last tournament as well, including Panama who drew all three games. The United States went 3-0 back in 2013 while Mexico and Jamaica accomplished the feat in 2011 but in 2009 all three group winners were unbeaten at seven points with two wins and draw in group play.
Overall, I am pleasantly surprised by the parity displayed in the group stages at the Gold Cup. So often we expect the giants of CONCACAF to squash the minnows and while that usually happens, there is a lot of competitive soccer in-between as well.
Or in this year’s edition, a lot of mediocrity. A lot of meh, a lot of average, a lot of forgettable games. It’s hard to say just who the best team is heading into the quarterfinals because there aren’t a lot of teams that have played exceptionally well. There have been a lot of teams who took care of business but looked rather pedestrian doing it.
So how do we sort through this cesspool of not very good soccer? With a power rankings list of course...
1. Mexico (2W-0L-1D, 7 pts, +4 GD, 1st Place Group C, QF vs. HON)
Mexico is at the top of CONCACAF until someone eliminates them. I don’t care if this is very much a “B” team from Mexico that was largely pedestrian against Jamaica, El Tri are the kings of the jungle until proven otherwise. It’s an interesting knockout draw for Mexico, who get a Hex team in Honduras and then possibly the winner of Jamaica-Canada.
2. Canada (1-0-2, 5 pts, +2 GD, 2nd Place Group A, QF vs. JAM)
Apologies to Canada in advance, but they’re up this high for three reasons: Alphonso Davies is good at soccer, Canada is probably the only team that exceeded expectations in the group stage, and Alphonso Davies is good at soccer. This doesn’t mean Canada should be proud of themselves though, this is a nation that should be routinely making the knockout stages. Let’s see if they can make some noise in the quarterfinals.
3. Costa Rica (2-0-1, 7 pts, +4 GD, 1st Place Group A, QF vs. PAN)
Los Ticos won their group and are only ahead of the USA and Panama because they were in a tougher group. Costa Rica handled Honduras who haven’t looked great, were meh against Canada and piled on French Guiana late. This is a team that has struggled in the quarterfinal round and haven’t made a semifinal since 2009. If they’re not careful, that trend could continue against Panama.
4 (tie). United States (2-0-1, 7 pts, +4 GD, 1st Place Group B, QF vs. SLV)
Yes, I’m giving the USA and Panama the same ranking because if we’re being honest, neither team separated themselves. The US in particular tends to play down to their opponents and this was especially true against Martinique. While the USA and Panama unsurprisingly advanced out of the group, neither did so in convincing fashion.
The US has added significant reinforcements for the knockout stages and are clearly gunning for the title. A potential semifinal Group B rematch awaits if both teams win midweek.
4 (tie). Panama (2-0-1, 7 pts, +4 GD, 2nd Place Group B, QF vs. CRC)
Group B is a microcosm of the Gold Cup, soccer games happened and there were positive results but in the end they didn’t tell us much. We know what Panama is, a team that can compete with anyone in CONCACAF on any given day. They’ve been a stalwart semifinal team the last few tournaments, including a Final loss to the US in 2013, they should not be underestimated in the knockout stages.
6. Jamaica (1-0-2, 5 pts, +2 GD, 2nd Place Group C, QF vs. CAN)
Jamaica followed up a goalless draw with Mexico with a comeback 1-1 draw against El Salvador. The Reggae Boyz can be a hard team to figure out, especially recently. Their form back in 2015 where the stormed to the Gold Cup final is seemingly gone but they do have far more veteran and knockout experience than Canada. It’s an intriguing matchup in the quarterfinals for both sides.
7. El Salvador (1-1-1, 4pts, 0 GD, 3rd Place Group C, QF vs. USA)
El Salvador are another team who are who they are - a gigantic pain to play and score against but at the same time they don’t overwhelm you with talent. Maybe they can’t always get results against the giants in the region, but to score against Mexico minutes after conceding the opener to level the match is impressive. Despite allowing three goals in a loss to Mexico they shutout Curacao and only allowed a penalty to Jamaica in a draw. Four years ago El Salvador lost 5-1 to the USA in the quarters, but the tourney before that they took Panama to penalties so you never know.
8. Martinique (1-0-2, 3 pts, -2 GD, 3rd Place Group B, eliminated)
If you’re looking for the team that really got screwed by the Flourent Malouda/French Guiana shenanigans, it’s Martinique. They would have advanced to the quarterfinals had the original match not been forfeited and awarded to Honduras. Kevin Parsemain scored three of the four goals in the group stage for his country and should be playing in one more game.
9. Honduras (1-1-1, 4pts, +2 GD, 3rd Place Group A, QF vs. MEX)
The official record will not show that Honduras didn’t win a match in the group stage, but we know otherwise. Whether or not Honduras actually tried in that second match knowing it would award to them is another talking point for a different day. The real question is which Honduras team shows up against Mexico: Honduras have won just once (against Nicaragua in a friendly) since going 4-0-1 in Copa Centroamericana in January and lost at Azteca in a WCQ to Mexico in June.
10. Nicaragua (0-0-3, 0 pts, -6 GD, 4th Place Group B, eliminated)
I want to give another shout-out, as I did in my earlier five thoughts piece, to GK Justo Lorente who saved two penalties against the USA over the weekend. I don’t care if the PKs were bad, Lorente was standing on his head and allowed three goals on a deflected shot, another deflected shot and a world class free kick to Matt Miazga’s head. Someone in a US-based league should pay Lorente to play keeper for them and he’s only 23.
11. Curacao (0-0-3, 0 pts, -6 GD, 4th Place Group C, eliminated)
I was hopeful that Curacao could be a dark horse candidate for the quarterfinals but I think they were undone by the draw. In a different group, perhaps with the US in Group B, they might’ve had a chance to advance or get even a point. Instead they went up against Mexico and two solid and organized teams in Jamaica and El Salvador and struggled offensively. But they made Jamaica and Mexico work for their wins, with Jamaica notching two second half goals and El Tri closing out their 2-0 win in stoppage time.
N/A. French Guiana (0-0-3, 0 pts, -8 GD, 4th Place Group A, eliminated)
I feel for French Guiana in their plight against CONCACAF/FIFA because if Flourent Malouda can help his birth nation qualify for the Gold Cup then in theory he should be allowed to play in the tournament. Real life often does not follow logic and French Guiana’s forfeit changed this competition and effectively eliminated another Caribbean nation in Martinique. I can not give French Guiana a ranking and can only wish them the best of luck in their quest to change/clarify their status in the region and in FIFA.