The first group to begin play at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup provides short, medium, and long-term interest to USMNT fans. Tournament favorites Mexico will always be a team to watch, particularly after last month’s defeat in the Nations League. El Salvador will be a future opponent during the third round of World Cup qualifying. Curaçao and Trinidad & Tobago appear to be moving in opposite directions, although both are looking ahead to the next cycle.
Saturday, July 10
El Salvador vs. Curaçao – 5:00 p.m. ET, 2:00 p.m. PT
Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago – 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Wednesday, July 14
Trinidad & Tobago vs. El Salvador – 7:30 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. PT
Curaçao vs. Mexico – 9:30 p.m. ET, 6:30 p.m. PT
Sunday, July 18
Mexico vs. El Salvador – 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Curaçao vs. Trinidad and Tobago – 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Following a disappointing second-place finish in the Nations League, manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino called in a convincing “B+” squad for the Gold Cup. He described winning as “an obligation,” expecting to add to the country’s 11 championships. Many of the big names are present, with enough talent to carry Mexico through the tournament. The addition of former Argentina international Rogelio Funes Mori is also a point of interest, as the 30-year-old striker may play a role during World Cup qualifying.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 11/15
Recent Record: In addition to the Nations League fixtures, Mexico has played friendlies against Iceland (2-1 win), Honduras (0-0 draw), Panama (3-1 win using the Olympic squad), and Nigeria (4-0).
Odds of Winning Group: Favorite
One to Watch: Perhaps the most dynamic player in the competition, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano is one of the contenders for the Golden Boot Award. With Mexico bringing the second-choice striker group, the versatile 25-year-old Napoli attacker can provide a sense of stability and must rise to the occasion.
La Selecta is in a bit of a transition period, attempting to move on from an older generation. An influx of new talent has been introduced in the last year, many with ties to the United States. While these young players were unlikely to break through during Gregg Berhalter’s immediate tenure, they have made the wise early decision to build long international careers with El Salvador.
“I think it has a lot to do with the Octagonal and fighting for the pass to the World Cup,” said recently hired manager Hugo Pérez. “That does not happen every day. I think that goes beyond the feeling that the player has, but it’s a delicate issue.”
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 69/81
Recent Record: El Salvador has enjoyed a strong 2021, registering a 5-0-1 record in World Cup qualifying. That includes an impressive 6-0 aggregate victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis to reach the third round. The country also played two pre-tournament friendlies against Guatemala (0-0 draw) and Qatar (1-0 loss).
Odds of Winning: In the Running
One to Watch: Former U.S. youth international Joshua Pérez made his senior debut last month for El Salvador. The 23-year-old attacker has scored three goals in five appearances and played a key role against St. Kitts and Nevis.
Is this a country on the rise or at the end of a fantastic run? Curaçao has qualified for three consecutive continental championships after a 44-year drought, reaching the quarterfinals and pushing the USMNT in 2019. The core of the roster is composed of players in their late-20s and early-30s, likely making this the final tournament for this particular group.
Curaçao is managed by Ajax great Patrick Kluivert, temporarily taking over for Guus Hiddink who is recovering from COVID-19. The roster is populated with a variety of top division players, including several from the Dutch Eredivisie. Their experience could carry the island nation through the group stage, becoming a dangerous potential opponent in the knockout rounds.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 76/99
Recent Record: Curaçao was rolling through World Cup qualifying, compiling a 3-0-1 record. However, a 2-1 aggregate loss to Panama saw the country eliminated from the competition.
Odds of Winning: Dark Horse
One to Watch: At 6’5”, striker Rangelo Janga is hard to miss with teammates launching speculative crosses in his direction, knowing the Rotterdam native has a good chance of winning the ball. The 29-year-old spent last season on loan at Eerste Divisie side NEC Nijmegen, helping lead the club to promotion. In 22 international appearances, he’s scored 12 goals.
Trinidad and Tobago
The Soca Warriors made a coaching change last month, firing Terry Fenwick after a “tumultuous time in charge of the national team” that included the global pandemic, “confusing team selections,” “poor results,” and a reported “clash with his media officer.” In his place, former national team midfielder Angus Eve was hired as an interim manager. The 49-year-old has been praised for “fostering a healthy working relationship with his players” during a preparation camp and recent matches.
The appearance at the 2006 World Cup is growing ever further into the past as Trinidad attempts to rebuild the national team. The squad is a combination of internationals and domestic players, relying on aging veterans. There is a youth movement on the way, but the implementation of these talents will have to wait until after this tournament.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 103/118
Recent Record: The good news is that Trinidad was undefeated during World Cup qualifying. The bad news is that a 2-0-2 record included a scoreless draw against the Bahamas and was only good enough for a second-place finish behind Saint Kitts and Nevis. The Gold Cup pre-tournament was a more convincing showing, with victories over Montserrat (6-1) and French Guiana (8-7 in penalties).
Odds of Winning: Dark Horse
One to Watch: Eve referred to the striker position as a “problem area,” but the goal scoring must come from somewhere. Midfielder Kevin Molino of the Columbus Crew is a competent attacker, capable of taking over a match.
Who will advance from Group A? What matches are most interesting to you? Let us know in the comment section.