The third and final Gold Cup group begins today (more or less at the time of publishing) and this could be the most entertaining group of the entire tournament. Favorites Mexico might not steamroll everyone with a less than full strength squad, Jamaica and El Salvador are both tough opponents but not in The Hex this time around and underdogs Curacao are making their first appearance since the Netherlands Antilles were a thing back in the 1960s.
So yeah, this should be fun. I hope former Atlanta Braves/MLB outfielder Andruw Jones is watching, because Curacao is gonna need some spectacular plays from his playbook to get out of this group. But if they do, they could make some serious noise in the knockout rounds and next World Cup cycle.
July 9, 2017
Curacao vs. Jamaica, 7 p.m. on FS1
Mexico vs. El Salvador, 9 p.m. on FS1
July 13, 2017
El Salvador vs. Curacao, 8 p.m. on FS1
Mexico vs. Jamaica, 10 p.m. on FS1
July 16, 2017
Jamaica vs. El Salvador, 6 p.m. on FS2
Curacao vs. Mexico, 8 p.m. on FS1
FIFA Ranking: 68
Qualification: Champions, 2017 Caribbean Cup
Appearance: 1st / Best Finish: N/A
Player To Watch: M/D Leandro Bacuna (Aston Villa, ENG) – Bacuna is perhaps the star of this team, playing the EPL and being a former Netherlands youth player tends to help your case on a team of relative anonymity. Bacuna only has 10 caps for Curacao with four goals since his debut last year but Curacao’s team history doesn’t include any caps from the previous team under the Netherlands Antilles so most of the team seems rather thin on international experience.
It’s hard to lie, everyone should be pulling for Curacao who are effectively making their debut despite their history as Netherlands Antilles back in the 1960s that notched two 3rd place finishes in the CONCACAF Cup. In the modern era, this team is entirely an unknown, but you don’t win the Caribbean Cup by accident. Sadly, this is perhaps the toughest draw in the entire tournament. Had Curacao been in any other group they could’ve had a great shot at a 3rd place bid. Now they’ll need a win against El Salvador and some impressive defensive performances to keep Mexico especially off the scoreboard. If you’re looking for an underdog to root for, the “Fightin’ Andruw Jones’” fan club is open for the next two weeks. Maybe even longer, you never know. Every Gold Cup there’s an up and coming team that makes some noise during the next World Cup cycle, it will be interesting to see if Curacao is that team this year.
FIFA Ranking: 103
Nickname: Los Cuscatlecos
Qualification: Third Place, 2017 Copa Centroamericano
Appearance: 10th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002, 2003, 2011, 2013)
Roster Breakdown: 16 Domestic, 4 USA, 1 Iceland, 1 Portugal, 1 Turkey
Player To Watch: Rodolfo Zelaya (Alianza, SLV) – If this name sounds familiar that’s because it is. Zelaya was the major star in the El Salvadorian match fixing scandal a few years back and served a one-year ban. Despite that, he’s a legitimate talent on a team that is solid but unspectacular in CONCACAF play.
El Salvador is the other tough draw here, because like Curacao in another group I’d almost assume they could grab one of the two third-place spots. Last year El Salvador got draws against Canada and Costa Rica but was the odd third-place team out with just two points. Los Cuscatlecos are who they are, a team that’s arguably Top 10-12 Gold Cup caliber team in CONCACAF but also not a team that punches above their weight too often. Can they get to the quarterfinals? Sure, but the question is can they take the next step? I don’t think so, not this year. But they’ll make someone earn it, they always do.
FIFA Ranking: 76
Nickname: The Reggae Boyz
Qualification: Runners-up, 2017 Caribbean Cup
Appearance: 10th / Best Finish: Runners-up (2015)
Player To Watch: GK Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union, MLS/USA) – Blake is a good goalkeeper. He shouldn’t be in MLS much longer, someone over in Europe should pay a transfer fee for his services so he can stop terrorizing New England with his ridiculous saves. He also played for the Connecticut Huskies and so did teammate and current Rochester Rhino Sergio Campbell. You knew that tidbit was coming.
I’d like to say that Jamaica built upon the stunning success that was their 2015 runner-up performance last tournament. But they didn’t, and losing to Curacao in the Caribbean Cup is the least of their problems right now. Jamaica got shelled in the fourth/semifinal round of qualifying mustering just four points as Costa Rica and Panama advanced to The Hex. Their first match of this Gold Cup is a rematch against Curacao and the full strength senior team will be on the field. Let’s see if Jamaica can take the initiative start this campaign off strongly with a win to set themselves up well for the knockout stages.
FIFA Ranking: 16
Nickname: El Tricolor
Qualification: Automatic, N. America
Appearance: 14th / Best Finish: Champions (1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2015)
Roster Breakdown: 22 Domestic, 1 MLS/USA
Player To Watch: FWD Erick Torres (Houston Dynamo, USA) – Mexico has effectively called up the LigaMX All-Stars and Cubo Torres and the senior team is effectively getting the summer off since they just played in the Confederations Cup anyway. There’s not a lot of experience and plenty of opportunity for a lot of players on this Mexico roster, let’s see if Cubo can take advantage before the knockout stages begin and reinforcements maybe get added to the roster.
We know how this works, Mexico are the kings of CONCACAF right now. They’re the defending Gold Cup champs, won the CONCACAF Cup and finished fourth in the Confederations Cup that ended like last week. This is not a vintage Mexico team but until someone knocks them out, they’re the favorites. We’ll know how serious Mexico is taking this competition if and when roster changes are made before the quarterfinals.