2011 Gold Cup: Group C preview
Head coach: Stephen Hart (Trinidad and Tobago)
MLS connections: Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC), Dwayne De Rosario (New York), Terry Dunfield (Vancouver), Andre Hainault (Houston), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake)
Gold Cup appearances: 9; champions in 2000
Former T&T international Hart served as Canada’s interim coach during their run to the 2007 semis as well as the 2009 tournament. The fate of his squad lies in the capable hands of MLSers Dwayne De Rosario and Will Johnson as well as PSV's Atiba Hutchinson, but the real key could be Toronto FC's Julian de Guzman. Canada cannot expect they'll defeat the US in their opener — though they'll be hungry to avenge their semifinal loss to the Americans in 2007. But a second-place finish will set them up with a match against the Group B winners, likely Guatemala or Honduras, who they defeated 2-1 in a July 2010 friendly. A return to the semifinals would be a solid result for the improving nation.
Head coach: Roger Salnot (France)
MLS connections: Stéphane Auvray (Sporting KC)
Gold Cup appearances: 2; semifinals in 2007
The Gwada Boys cannot participate in World Cup qualifying — they are classified as an overseas department of France — so any international respect they hope to win must be garnered during the Gold Cup. And they’ve done just that, upsetting Canada and Honduras while reaching the semifinals in 2007 before finishing second in their group two years later. Thierry Henry's father hails from the tiny island nation that punches above its weight class every Gold Cup, but the 2011 team will rely on captain Auvray and Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Ronald Zubar.
Head coach: Julio Dely Valdés (Panama)
MLS connections: None
Gold Cup appearances: 4; runners-up in 2005
Two goals each from 25-year-old Real Cartegena forward Edwin Aguilar and 23-year-old Árabe Unido midfielder Armando Cooper helped Dely Valdes lead his side to a third-place finish in the Copa Centroamerica in January and a spot in its fourth straight Gold Cup. The Red Tide lost to the US on penalty kicks in the 2005 final, but won't get that far in 2011. They are a solid team, but lack the superstar needed to make a difference. Lead attackers Luis Tejada and Blas Pérez are 29 and 30, respectively. Municipal goalkeeper Jaime Penedo will have his work cut out for him.
Head coach: Bob Bradley (United States)
MLS connections: Juan Agudelo (New York), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Benny Feilhaber (New England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Tim Ream (New York), Robbie Rogers (Columbus), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
Previous Gold Cup appearances: 10; champions in 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007
The Americans have never lost a Gold Cup group-stage match — only draws against Costa Rica in ‘05 and Haiti in ‘09 kept them from a perfect record — and 2011 won't be any different. Bradley brings a roster featuring battle-hardened veterans such as Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, in addition to youngsters including Agudelo and, shockingly, Freddy Adu who returns to the American roster after a decent campaign in the Turkish second division. Anything less than a first-place finish will be a disappointment for the US side.
There's plenty of Gold Cup history between these four clubs. In addition to Guadeloupe's shock defeat of Canada in 2007 and their victory over Panama in 2009, the US have knocked out the Central American side in each of the last three tournaments. Los Canaleros would love to get a measure of revenge when they play the Americans in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on June 11, but the US have too much firepower to fall in the first round.
Even so, Group C may be the most interesting group of the 2011 tournament. The Americans are the heavy favorites, but the other three could finish in any order. Canada are expected to take second place, but Guadeloupe's pedigree and penance for performing out of their league could play a factor.