This is the most entertaining soccer tournament on the summer docket. Perhaps not the best, but you can keep for EURO Finals between England and Italy or your Copa final between Argentina and Brazil.
Give me an El Salvador-Curacao group stage match over those more “prestigious” continental titles any day. I’d like to see Gareth Southgate and England make the rounds in Central America and the Caribbean during qualification. This is CONCACAF, where the tournament hasn’t even started and we’re already on our nonsense.
We say farewell to Curacao, we hardly knew ye - a darkhorse favorite in this year’s tournament bows out before it even starts due to a COVID outbreak. We wish that team and it’s staff and fans the best and a speedy recovery for the Nations League A Flight next year.
Guatemala has reported off the subs bench and into the tournament field, taking over Curacao’s schedule with a minor change for their first match against El Salvador which will happen a day later.
Mexico leads the group as the top ranked team and while this was always going to be a race for second, Curacao’s exit has perhaps opened the door in the race for second place.
TV SCHEDULE (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, July 10
Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago, 10:30 p.m. (FS1)
Sunday, July 11
El Salvador vs. Guatemala*, 10:30 p.m. (FS2?)
Wednesday, July 14
Trinidad and Tobago vs. El Salvador, 7:30 p.m. (FS1)
Guatemala* vs. Mexico, 10 p.m. (FS1)
Sunday, July 18
Mexico vs. El Salvador, 10 p.m. (FS1)
Guatemala* vs. Trinidad and Tobago, 10 p.m. (FS2)
(* - these are the original slots featuring Curacao, we will update if we confirm the TV slots as best we can)
EL SALVADOR [SLV/A2]
Head Coach: Hugo Perez (SLV/USA) - Yes, that is former USMNT striker Perez who was named El Salvador’s head coach back in April getting the promotion after stints as an assistant and their U23 head coach.
FIFA Ranking: 69
Qualification: Nations League B Flight, Group B Winners
Appearance: 12th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2017, 2013, 2011, 2003, 2002)
Roster Breakdown: 15 Domestic, 6 USA/CAN (MLS/USL), 1 Guatemala, 1 Spain
Recent Matches: Won 1st Rd WCQ Group A, Won 2nd Rd Agg. Series vs St Kitts and Nevis 6-0, Friendlies: D 0-0 vs. Guatemala, L 0-1 vs. Qatar
Player To Know: Eriq Zavaleta, DEF Toronto FC (CAN/MLS) - 4 Int’l Apperances, 1 Goal – Longtime TFC veteran featured for the USYNT but swithced over to El Salvador this year and surely can add a lot of experience to a side known for being a solid CONCACAF team.
Player To Watch: Walmer Martinez, FWD Hartford Athletic (USA/USL) - 4 Int’l Apperances, 1 Goal - Martinez missed out on representing El Salvador for U23 Olympic qualifying but he won’t miss out on the Gold Cup. The HFD striker scored his first international goal against Antigua and Barbuda on June 8th.
El Salvador are who they are – a decent side but haven’t shown they’re a threat to breakthrough in either WCQ and/or make the Gold Cup semis. But they’re going to play A Flight Nations League games next year and can’t be an afterthought for second in this group.
Head Coach: Rafael Loredo (interim)
FIFA Ranking: 127 Nickname: Los Chapines
Qualification: Special Replacement for Curacao, Highest rated team in Gold Cup qualifying not previously qualified
Appearance: 11th / Best Finish: 4th (1996)
Recent Matches: D 0-0 vs El Salvador, W 4-0 vs Guyana, D 1-1 vs Guadeloupe (lost on GCQ on PK’s 10-9)
Player To Know: Marvin Ceballos, MID/Universidad de Guadalajara (MEX) - 23 Int’l Apperances, 6 goals – A former USL level player with the Carolina RailHawks and Indy Eleven, Ceballos is one of the few players familiar for a team that hasn’t made the Gold Cup since 2015.
So this was unexpected as Guatemala had to get their squad back together and play in their first Gold Cup in a little while on short notice. They’ll have a one day reprieve for their opener against El Salvador which could be the fixture that decides second place in this group.
Head Coach: Gerardo “Tata” Martino (ARG)
FIFA Ranking: 11 Nickname: El Tri
Qualification: Nations League A Flight, Group B Winners
Appearance: 16th / Best Finish: Champions (2019, 2015, 2011, 2009, 2003, 1998, 1996, 1993)
Roster Breakdown: 14 Domestic, 3 USA (MLS), 2 Netherlands, 2 Spain, 1 Italy, 1 Portugal
Recent Matches: Friendlies – D 0-0 vs. Honduras, W 3-0 vs Panama, W 4-0 vs Nigeria (all neutral site gams in USA)
Players To Know: GKs Alfredo Talavera / Rodolfo Cota / Jonathan Orozco – The 38 year old Talavera is the most experienced keeper on the roster with 32 appearances, Orozco and and Cota have 9 and 5 respectively. Memo Ochoa is going to the Olympics with the U23 squad so this group will be the backstops for the tournament.
Player To Watch: Efrain Alvarez, MID LA Galaxy (USA/MLS), 2 Int’l Appearances, 0 goals – The LA Galaxy starlet winger recently made the decision to represent El Tri which makes sense after spending the bulk of his youth career with them. It will be interesting to see how much Alvarez plays in this tournament with Mexico’s veteran laden roster.
This should be a fairly easy group for Mexico to top enroute to another likely final. El Tri has brought far more firepower to the Gold Cup than the United States, and are the clear favorites for their 9th title.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO [TRI/A4]
Head Coach: Angus Eve (TRI)
FIFA Ranking: 103 Nickname: Soca Warriors
Qualification: Nations League A Flight, Group C Third Place; Gold Cup Qualifying Winners (6-1 vs Monserrat, 1-1 vs French Guiana (8-7 on PKs)
Appearance: 11th / Best Finish: 3rd (200)
Roster Breakdown: 7 Domestic, 6 USA/CAN (MLS/USL/Etc), 7 Unattached, 1 Costa Rica, 1 Norway, 1 Saudi Arabia
Player To Know: Kevin Molino, MID Columbus Crew (USA/MLS), 51 Int’l Appearances, 22 Goals – There’s not a lot of star power on this squad, but Molino certainly qualifies as one signing with the Crew in 2021 after solid stints at Orlando and Minnesota.
It’s hard to figure out T&T, who have been all over the place the last few years but mostly downhill since that fateful day against the USA in Couva. They lost out in the first round of WCQ by a point to St Kitts and Nevis, got bounced out of the A Flight of the Nations League but did hang on in penalties to make it back to the Gold Cup in qualifying. Anyone could finish second behind Mexico in this group, but T&T’s recent form might give them the weakest case.
This group is far less interesting without Curacao in it if only because that was perhaps the one team aside from Mexico who had a darkhorse shot at a semifinal. El Salvador and Guatemala both did well in World Cup qualifying, with El Salvador qualifying for the Octagon and Guatemala losing out on a goals scored tiebreaker against Curacao in the first round. Trinidad however drew both the Bahamas and Puerto Rico in their games, making their win against St. Kitts and Nevis moot as they were eliminated going into that game, a staggering fall for a team that was in the 2018 Hex.
Everything being equal, and as much as I want to give them a legitimate chance, you have think things are falling into place for El Salvador here. Guatemala is subbing into the tournament on short notice, and that first match up is huge. If El Salvador gets at least one win in their first two matches along with a draw, their final game against Mexico might be moot as far as the top two advancing. I can see a T&T rebound tournament but all that would do is boost their confidence in the short term. I think Guatemala will play pretty well, all things considered, but the deck is stacked against them as far as advancing to the knockouts.
1) Mexico 2) El Salvador 3) Trinidad and Tobago 4) Guatemala