The United States kicks off their quest for a sixth Gold Cup title against familiar foes Panama. Upstarts Nicaragua and Martinique are looking to spoil the Group B party and crash the knockout stages. The two important games are up first, with the USA-Panama match followed by Nicaragua-Martinique today. The winners of these games will likely be in control of the top of the group and potential third place spot respectively in Group B.
July 8, 2017
USA vs. Panama, 4:30 p.m. on FOX
Martinique vs. Nicaragua, 7 p.m. on FS2
July 12, 2017
Panama vs. Nicaragua, 6:30 p.m. on FS1
USA vs. Martinique, 8:30 p.m. on FS1
July 15, 2017
Panama vs. Martinique, 4:30 p.m. on FS2
Nicaragua vs. USA, 7 p.m. on FXX
FIFA Ranking: N/A (non-FIFA member)
Nickname: Les Matinino
Qualification: 4th Place, 2017 Caribbean Cup
Appearance: 5th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)
Player To Watch: FWD Kevin Parsemain (Golden Lion, MTQ) – Parsemian is no stranger to the Gold Cup, and is one of the few recognizable names on the Matininos roster. He trialed with the Seattle Sounders a few years ago and has 27 international goals in 42 games for Martinique. Current Sounders fullback Jordy Delem is also on the roster as the lone MLS representative.
This is one of my favorite goals of all-time, Fabrice Reuperne in stoppage time against Canada in 2013:
(Sorry, not sorry to Canada for showing that again.)
Martinique are minnows in CONCACAF but they should not be disregarded in this group simply because they can’t qualify for a World Cup. They have pulled of an upset before and for the most part don’t get blown out at the Gold Cup. After beating Canada in 2013, Martinique lost to Panama 1-0 and Mexico 3-1 which are more than respectable scorelines for a team that isn’t FIFA-eligible and doesn’t go through WCQ every cycle. The match with Nicaragua looms large, if they have a shot at advancing they’ll need a win today to get to the knockout stages. If they can’t steal a point from the USA or Panama, they’ll have to rely on their stout defense to keep the goal differential as low as possible for a third place berth.
FIFA Ranking: 105
Nicknames: La Azul y Blanco, Los Pinoleros Albiazules
Qualification: 5th Place, 2017 Copa Centroamericano; Won agg. Playoff vs. Haiti 4-3
Appearance: 2nd / Best Finish: Group Stage (2009)
Roster Breakdown: 18 Domestic, 2 Guatemala, 1 Costa Rica, 1 Peru, 1 Iceland
Player To Watch: MID Juan Barrera (CSD Comunicaciones, GUA) – The Nicaraguan captain is pretty much the only reason Nicaragua are even at the Gold Cup. Down 3-1 on aggregate to Haiti in the playoff, Barrera scored a hat trick in the final ten minutes to give the Blue and Whites their second ever Gold Cup berth.
Nicaragua doesn’t have a lot of history in the CONCACAF region, making just their second trip to the Gold Cup. They gave Jamaica a scare in the third round of World Cup qualifying and pulled a stunning comeback to upset Haiti to make into the tournament. That alone is an accomplishment, but unless they can get a win against Martinique they’ll have almost no chance to advance. But we’ll see if qualification for this year’s contest can spring board them to improve in the 2022 World Cup cycle.
FIFA Ranking: 52
Nickname: Los Canaleros
Qualification: Runners-up, 2017 Copa Centroamericano
Appearance: 8th / Best Finish: Runners-up (2005, 2013)
Player To Watch: Gabriel Torres (Lausanne Sport, SUI) – Blas Perez isn’t walking through that door, Luis Tejada isn’t walking through that door…but if they do for the knockout stages they’ll score goals because of course they will. In the short term, Panama will need someone to score goals and Torres is the best striker on the roster. With 10 international goals, Torres is the second highest scorer on the roster behind midfielder Gabriel Gomez who has 12.
This is a fairly young Panamanian roster that has really accomplished nearly everything in CONCACAF but win the Gold Cup or qualify for a World Cup. There’s a good argument to make that Los Canaleros are the fourth best team in the region. They’ve made three straight Gold Cup semifinals and the knockout stage every year since 2005. At some point Panama needs get over the hump in CONCACAF, right now they remain on the cusp and should be a lock for the quarterfinals in this group. There’s no reason to think they can’t make another semifinal or finals run either.
FIFA Ranking: 35
Nickname: The Yanks, The Stars and Stripes
Qualification: Automatic, N. America
Appearance: 14th / Best Finish: Champions (1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013)
Roster Breakdown: 17 MLS, 4 Mexico, 2 England
Player To Watch: MID Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas, USA) – Yes, we’re going to talk about the other Kellyn, not New England’s Kelyn Rowe, but Acosta who has a great chance to establish himself as a USMNT regular. His set piece taking and work rate next to Michael Bradley and Dax McCarty have been a revelation for a side looking to move on from the Beckerman/Jones era and the youngster from Dallas has a real shot to stake a claim on not only a qualifying roster spot, but a starting spot as well.
There’s a more detailed version of this in my USA preview, but the long story short is the USA needs to win the Gold Cup basically every time. They’re the hosts, they want to be the top team in the region and they want to be going to the Confederations Cup as often as possible to gain extra international experience against top teams. Beating up on Nicaragua and Martinique in the group stages doesn’t tell us much about this team long term. The road to the 2021 Qatar Confederations Cup begins now, and Panama won’t make it easy on the US in their first game.
GROUP B PREDICTIONS
I think the USMNT and Panama going 1-2 will not surprise anyone, it’s a just a matter of how. There’s no reason why the US shouldn’t get all nine points from this group and leave Nicaragua and Martinique battling it out for the third place bid. Ultimately, this is the group I only see two teams qualifying from for the knockout stages.
1) United States, 9 pts; 2) Panama, 6 pts; 3) Martinique, 1 pt; 4) Nicaragua, 1 pt