The 13th edition of the Gold Cup kicks off tonight at the Toyota Stadium in Dallas, TX.
Panama and Haiti will be the teams facing each other in the opener and later, in primetime, The United States will begin their title defense against "Los Catrachos" (Honduras). There's a different feeling to it this time and what I mean is that there is a lot more at stake and also more to prove from the CONCACAF teams. Remember! The winner of this edition will have a ticket to participate in next year's Copa America Centenario as well as a playoff game versus USA, winners of the 2013 Gold Cup, for the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Following an outstanding World Cup performance in Brazil last year and winning the last two Central American Cups, Costa Rica sits among the favorites to take the Cup for the first time since 1989, back when it was called CONCACAF Championship. But they will have to make do without one of their most important players in the roster, shot stopper Keylor Navas. He suffered from tendinitis in his Achilles' heel and returned to Spain for posible surgery. Obviously the strongest candidates, as always, are USA and Mexico. The United States have disputed the final in the last five editions and also come in to this competition in a very good form, winning the last four friendlies against Mexico, Netherlands, Germany and Guatemala. The ones against the European countries were very impressive wins on the road. They are expected to cruise past the group stage, however, Panama and Honduras have prepared very well and will attempt to make it difficult for the Americans.
For Mexico, this Gold Cup is a MUST WIN in order to reclaim the supremacy they've lost over the past years in this region. The Aztecas have all the pressure and it is really taking its toll judging from the recent results. No wins in the last 7 outings, including the 3 Copa America games, have really placed "El Piojo" Herrera in the hot seat. "El Tri" suffered a big blow in the attack as their star upfront Javier "El Chicharito" Hernandez will sit this one out due to the injury in the last match against Honduras. Club Santos player Javier Orozco will take his place. Despite Hernandez missing out on the Gold Cup, Mexico is also expected to cruise through the group stage as they go up against weaker sides such as Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago and Guatemala.
The one team that has something to prove is Honduras. I don't mention this because I'm from Honduras, I do because "La H" has dropped considerably from the place they held in the region. After a dreadful performance in the World Cup, Central American Cup and earning right to play in the Gold Cup through playoffs, they have to do a lot better in order to restore prestige. New boss Jorge Luis Pinto has made a few changes in the roster bringing in ten players that will make their first appearance in this competition as well as some of the usual ones such as Andy Najar and Boniek Garcia. It's a shame that the eternal goalkeeper Noel Valladares will miss the Cup due to health problems (nothing serious). "La H" has shown improvement in the last three games which were against Paraguay, Brazil and Mexico and despite not winning any of those games, you could see what the Colombian coach is trying to do and it is great to see the players respond to his tactics.
Well, there you go, short and sweet thoughts for tonight. Overall, this edition of the Gold Cup should be a good one to watch. In past editions, we've seen only B teams but this time, everyone has prepared and seem eager to show the world that CONCACAF also knows football. Mexico and USA have been dominant for the last 12 years but it won't be so easy this time. Entertainment, drama and hopefully lots of goals are coming our way!