The return of the CONCACAF Gold Cup also means the return of the TBM Group Primers for 2017. First up is Group A consisting of Canada, Costa Rica, French Guiana and Honduras. It’s a fairly balanced group for the Gold Cup, with two clear favorites at the top and two other teams who will likely be battling it out for one of the third place spots.
Schedule (All times eastern)
July 7, 2017
French Guiana vs. Canada, 7 p.m. on FS2
Honduras vs. Costa Rica, 9 p.m. on FS2
July 11, 2017
Costa Rica vs. Canada, 7:30 p.m. on FS1
Honduras vs. French Guiana, 10 p.m. on FS1
July 14, 2017
Costa Rica vs. French Guiana, 7:30 p.m. on FS1
Canada vs. Honduras, 10 p.m. on FS1
FIFA Ranking: 100
Nicknames: The Canunks, Les Rouges
Qualification: Automatic, N. America
Gold Cup Appearance: 13th / Best Finish: Champions (2000)
Player To Watch: Alphonso Davies, MID, Vancouver Whitecaps (CAN) – I would normally mention top MLS SuperDraft pick Cyle Larin here, but he’s not with the team following a DUI arrest recently. So instead we’ll give the nod to another MLS player in 16-year old Davies who just a month ago finalized his Canadian citizenship and made his senior international debut against Curacao. The young playmaker impressed in this year’s Canadian Championship, despite the Caps bowing out in the semis to Montreal. A burst of speed or a spark off the bench from Davies could be exactly what they need to secure a spot in the knockout stages.
The Gold Cup has not been kind to Canada in recent years, and they’ve struggled mightily on the international stage as well. The last time Canada scored in the Gold Cup was via a Dwyane de Rosario penalty kick in 2011. The last time Canada made the quarterfinals/knockout stages was 2009 and being in Group B with Costa Rica and Honduras means they might have to battle it out for a third-place berth. Canada is a fairly stout defensive team, but they’re known to concede late goals (see Martinique in 2013) and without Larin it’s hard to predict where the goals will come from. This is an improved team for sure, but whether or not they’ve improved past a quarterfinal, one-and-done knockout exit remains to be seen.
FIFA Ranking: 26
Nickname: Los Ticos
Qualification: Fourth Place, 2017 Copa Centroamericana
Appearance: 13th / Best Finish: Runner-up (2002)
Players To Watch: GKs Patrick Pemberton, Leonel Moreira, Danny Carvajal – In short, Keylor Navas isn’t walking through that door…and if he did, you might be able to make the argument that Los Ticos should be the clear favorites over the USA and Mexico. Pemberton started all three games in the 2016 Copa America where Los Ticos went 1-1-1 and got pasted by the USA 4-0 in the group stages. Costa Rica’s starting lineup might be the best in this tournament with the US and Mexico sending “B” teams, but questions remain if they can win without Navas in net.
Costa Rica have long established themselves as the third team in CONCACAF despite missing the 2010 World Cup with a playoff loss to Uruguay. Somehow this hasn’t translated to a lot of Gold Cup success, with Costa Rica only making the semifinals round once since 2005. A penalty shootout loss to Mexico in 2009 is their only appearance in the final four at the Gold Cup, a startling record for a team that made the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014. They usually get a tough matchup in the quarterfinals against Mexico or Honduras but a team with this much talent should be regularly making the semifinals in CONCACAF. With Mexico and the USA both sending mostly “B” sides, if Costa Rica gets good goalkeeping from the above trio, they’ll be a threat to win it all.
FIFA Ranking: N/A (non-FIFA member)
Nickname: Les Yana Dokos
Qualification: Third Place, 2017 Caribbean Cup
Appearance: 1st / Best Finish: N/A
Roster Breakdown: 8 Domestic, 12 France, 1 Italy, 1 India, 1 Unattached
Player To Watch: Flourent Malouda (Delhi Dynamos, IND) – Okay, normally I’d be grasping at straws looking at the team roster for anyone I might’ve heard of. In this case, pretty much everyone’s heard of Malouda but there’s a catch for the former French World Cup veteran – he’s not eligible to play per CONCACAF regulations.
Despite that, French Guiana has said they might play him anyway and take the forfeit. In previous editions of the Gold Cup, Malouda would have been eligible. Jocelyn Angloma represented France but after a five-year absence played for Guadelope in the 2007 tournament. CONCACAF has said Malouda can play, but since he’s ineligible all Canada or any other team would have to do is protest and immediately get a 3-0 victory by forfeit.
The Malouda situation aside, this is a team that has shown it can compete at the CONCACAF level. Two years ago, French Guiana took Honduras to the brink in the Central America-Caribbean playoff, winning the home leg 3-1 before falling 3-0 on the road for the aggregate loss. They’re clearly the minnows of this group but we’ve seen Canada get stunned before and Honduras was a team not too long ago that was struggling mightily on the field. A third-place finish is possible but anything farther than a quarterfinal appearance would be a true Cinderella run.
FIFA Ranking: 72
Nickname: Los Catrachos
Qualification: Champions, 2017 Copa Centroamericana
Appearance: 13th / Best Finish: Runners-up (1991)
Players To Watch: Alberth Eis and Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo, USA) – Okay, get the Honduras Dynamo jokes out of the way, because yes, it’s true. There are four players who hail from MLS, all from Texas (three from Houston and one from Dallas) on Los Catrachos but none more *winces* dynamic than the striker duo of Ellis and Quioto.
What makes these two extra special, not just being teammates at club level, but they’re both really young. Quioto is just 25 and has 29 caps and 6 international goals while Elis is 21 with 19 games and 4 goals for Honduras. This year in MLS the two have combined for 27 games (18 starts) with a total of 10 goals and 5 assists. If that form translates to the Gold Cup, Honduras will certainly be in the conversation for a semifinal berth.
Honduras in 2014-15 were a mess, they got skunked the World Cup, barely made the Gold Cup and then got skunked there as well. Their recent turnaround saw them finish just ahead of Canada in the fourth round of qualifying but they’re now fifth place in The Hex, three points behind the USA in third. Despite the blip in 2015, this is usually a side that makes the semifinals, something they did four out of five times from 2005-2013. Before the calamity that was 2015, Los Catrachos hadn’t missed the knockout stages in the Gold Cup since a 10th place finish in 2003. This is a fairly young Honduras team, but there’s enough of a veteran presence to where I think they’re recent form will prove the last tournament was a outlier for a country that usually steps up for the Gold Cup.
1) CRC 7 pts; 2) HON 7 pts; 3) CAN* 3pts; GUF 0pts (*-advances as 3rd place team)
It would not shock me to see Canada end up with four points here which would surely see them through to the next round. French Guiana can play spolier in this group but part of me thinks they’re serious about playing Malouda. If that’s true, and he plays against Canada, then they’ll have almost no shot at advancing since four points against Costa Rica/Honduras seems unlikely. All that being said, I think this will be a competitive group and the expected separation in the standings won’t reflect just how tough some of these games could be for Costa Rica and Honduras.