by Chris Rios
We are off to the knockout stage of the Gold Cup! Well, we shouldn’t celebrate much because 3/4 of the teams advanced out of the group stage, and the average FIFA rank of the teams eliminated was 96 (yes, I did the math). So let’s not pat ourselves on the back for doing what was expected to be done. That being said, there are some powerhouses in the quarterfinals, along with some dark horses who may have found form at the optimal time. In this article, I’ll quickly preview each team and give some specific predictions.
Quarterfinals Power Rankings
1. Mexico (4 pts, 1-0-2) I don’t usually rely on stats, but I think the stats tell the story here. Mexico has created twice as many chances as any other team in this tournament. They have the most shots on goal, assists, goals, corner kicks and passes completed. And it isn’t really close… They absolutely humiliated Cuba in their first match: punishing them with six goals. In their second match, El Tri played a Guatemala side who were committed to not let Mexico score… but they clearly were not concerned with much more considering they only saw the ball for 18 total minutes of play. Yet, Mexico couldn’t crack the code despite their 19 shots and ended up drawing that match with Guatemala. Finally, how could we forget the instant classic that was Trindidad Tobago vs. Mexico… these are the highlights you want to watch. It was an absolutely exhilarating game in front of 50,000+ fans, I heard a commentator coin it as the “Best CONCACAF game ever.“
Although this match demonstrated how Mexico can be exploited at the back, it also showcased their ability to create chances and finish opportunities with their backs against the wall. Remember, El Tri did not make the finals of the last Gold Cup, but they won in 2009 and 2011, so they are hungry to get back to the top of CONCACAF. Players to watch: Oribe Peralta, Carlos Vela
2. United States (7 pts, 2-0-1) Have they been playing like the best or second best team in this tournament? No. But the bar isn’t set that high. Other than Mexico’s demolition of Cuba, the three favorites have underperformed. The United States can still find their form if Klinsmann decides to stick with a consistent lineup. We have arguably the best two players in the tournament–Brad Guzan and Clint Dempsey–and they should be able to thrust the United States into the final.
The question will be if the rest of the team will be able to mesh in order to beat either Trinidad and Tobago or Mexico who will finish the opportunities Haiti, Honduras and Panama did not. Players to Watch: Brad Guzan, Gyasi Zardes, Clint Dempsey
3. Trinidad and Tobago (7 pts, 2-0-1) The surprise dark horse of the tournament. Ranked 64 in the world, the Soca Warriors were able to handle both Guatemala and Cuba with ease. They don’t hold much possession, but they like to counter quick and they are accurate in the 18 (just ask Mexico…). Sheldon Bateau (4), Kenwyne Jones (9), and Keron Cummings (20) are the Soca Warriors goal-scorers. They netted a combined six during group stage. They are comfortable without the ball, but counter quickly, and efficiently. Although they don’t maintain much possession, they still produced the second most goals (9) and the second most assists (5) in the group stage. Player to Watch: Kenwyne Jones
4. Panama (3 pts, 0-0-3) The Panamanians tied all three matches in group play, and even gave the Yanks a scare in their final group play match (despite facing an experimental U.S. side…). The Panamanians have not played brilliant soccer, but they have been solid in the back and have been able to create a significant number of chances. If they are able to spring Perez forward and finish more of their opportunities, they could have a chance to advance past the Soca Warriors and give Mexico a scare. Remember, in 2013, the Panamanians advanced past Mexico to reach the Gold Cup final. Players to Watch: Luis Tejada, Blás Perez
5. Costa Rica (3 pts, 0-0-3) In my eyes, Costa Rica has been the biggest letdown of the tournament. Following their magical run in the 2014 World Cup, many expected that form to follow into the Gold Cup. Yet, it seems that much of that magic may have departed with former head coach Luis Jorge Pinto, who is now on the sidelines for Honduras (who also had a disappointing Gold Cup). After being placed into the cupcake group with Jamaica, Canada, and El Salvador, most thought that Costa Rica, ranked 41 in the world coming into the tournament, would easily post 9 points and finish at the top of their group… Well, Costa Rica has only scored 3 goals in the tournament and has yet to really show any reminiscence of the team that took the Dutch to PKs… We’ll see if they can regain that form in the knockout stage but I doubt it.
6. Haiti (4 pts, 1-1-1) Haiti finished with four points in what I considered the most difficult group with Panama, Honduras and the United States. After tying Panama and losing to the United States, the Haitians needs to secure 3 points against Honduras to ensure their survival into the knockout stage… In the sweltering afternoon heat of Kansas City (felt like over 100…) the Haitians were able to score one goal, and that goal would be enough to take them on to the next round. After the match, the Haitians collapsed on the field in relief and exhaustion, but the they should not sell themselves short: They undoubtably have a chance to better their Caribbean counterpart, Jamaica, in the knockout stage.
7. Jamaica (7 pts, 2-0-2) Ok, you might be surprised to see Jamaica ranked here considering they finished with a respectable 7 points, but let’s look into the those 7 points a little more closely… One win was over El Salvador. In this match, they only produced 4 shots on target to El Salvador’s 7, and only maintained 32.% possession. In their second win, over Canada, they swung away 21 times, but only put the ball on frame 6 times and produced one goal. They also weren’t able to outpossess Canada… Canada is ranked 103 in the world. I think Haiti will give them problems.
8. Cuba (3 pts, 1-2-0) How the hell are these guys still here!!! They have players not just quitting the team… but quitting the nation minutes before quick off! Absolutely ludicrous. But despite getting completely dismantled by Mexico, and then again losing handedly to Trinidad and Tobago… the Cubans were somehow able to steal three points from Honduras… I think it’s more likely that 15 players defect minutes before game time and Cuba has to forfeit than the USA losing this match.
USA v. Cuba: Saturday, July 18th- 5 PM EST, Baltimore, MD. Prediction: Cuba doesn’t have a full team! USA starts to find form and wins easily.
Haiti v. Jamaica: Saturday, July 18th- 8 PM EST, Baltimore, MD. Prediction: Overrated group winner falls to inspired Haitian side. Both teams will have problems holding the ball.
Trindad and Tobago v. Panama: Sunday, July 19th- 4:30 PM EST, East Rutherford, NJ. Prediction: Best match of the quarterfinals. This one could go either way, but based off recent form, I think Kenwyne Jones will score a goal and elevate the Soca Warriors past Bláz Perez and the Panamanians.
Best match of the quarterfinals. I think this one could go either way, but based off recent form, I think Kenwyne Jones will score a goal and elevate the Soca Warriors past Bláz Perez and the Panamanians
Mexico v. Costa Rica: Sunday, July 19th- 7:30 PM EST, East Rutherford, NJ Prediction: This match looks good on paper considering the performances of both sides in the 2014 World Cup, but Costa Rica just really isn’t playing well right now. I expect Mexico to win convincingly.
Four Specific Predictions 1. USA will finally start their best lineup against Cuba and score 3+ goals 2. The Trinidad and Tobago vs. Panama will be the best match of the quarterfinals and Kenwyne Jones will score a goal in extra time 3. Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela will score against Costa Rica. One of them will have two goals 4. Wondolowski will miss an open net and Timmy Chandler will high five him after… So now sit back, grab a beer and enjoy the matches.