Copa Centroamericana kicks off Wednesday at RFK Stadium and Costa Rica are favorites
Wednesday marks the start of the Copa Centroamericana, which for the first time will be played in the United States.
What's at stake?
The Copa Centroamericana winner gets a ticket to the 2016 Copa America Centenario, while the top two teams in each group qualify directly to the 2015 Gold Cup. The fifth-place team earns a spot in a Gold Cup playoff against the fifth-place team from the Caribbean Cup.
COSTA RICA vs. NICARAGUA, Group A (Wed., Sept. 3 @ 5:30 ET — RFK Stadium)
Costa Rica, seven-time winners of the tournament, are the undisputed favorites, especially after their historic quarterfinal run at the 2014 World Cup. But the coach that led them there, Jorge Luis Pinto, has moved on with interim Paulo Wanchope taking the reins.
The former Chicago Fire forward has assembled a full-strength squad, headlined by Arsenal star forward Joel Campbell, missing only Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) and Bryan Ruiz (Fulham). Portland Timbers winger Rodney Wallace is in the squad and New York Red Bulls full back Roy Miller will join them if they make the final.
Nicaragua's head coach, Spaniard Enrique Llena, is expected to play a defensive 5-4-1 formation in an attempt to stifle the Ticos and somehow pull off the miracle of getting Nicaragua to its second ever Gold Cup.
HONDURAS vs. BELIZE, Group B (Wed., Sept. 3 @ 7:30 ET – RFK Stadium)
After their three-and-out at the 2014 World Cup, it's a new era for Honduras under new manager Hernan Medford, a Costa Rican legend.
Medford begins his run at the helm with only two holdovers from Brazil 2014. He'll be counting on Vancouver Whitecaps center back Johnny Leveron and former Seattle Sounders midfielder Mario Martinez to play a major role against tiny Belize, who only recently defied the odds to play in their first-ever Gold Cup in 2013.
The Belizeans are also coached by a Costa Rican, Leroy Sherrier Lewis.
EL SALVADOR vs. GUATEMALA, Group B (Wed., Sept. 3 @ 9:30 ET – RFK Stadium)
More new blood in the CONCACAF coaching ranks will be showcased when El Salvador (Spaniard Alberto Roca) and Guatemala (Argentine Ivan Franco Sopegno) face off in the tripleheader finale.
The faces may be different on the sideline, but there'll be some familiar veterans on both sides – MLS legend Carlos "El Pescadito" Ruiz (Guatemala) and ex-MLSer Arturo Alvarez (El Salvador) – as well as current and future MLS stars: Guatemala's Marco Pappa (Seattle Sounders) and El Salvador's Darwin Ceren (Orlando City).
While El Salvador, who are still in the process of overcoming the match-fixing scandal that tore the team apart in 2013, have never won the tournament, Guatemala are eyeing a second Copa Centroamericana title (2001).