Gold Cup Group B preview: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago
Head coach: Agustín Castillo (Peru)
MLS connections: Steve Purdy (Chivas USA)
Previous Gold Cup appearances: 7; quarterfinalists in 2002, 2003, 2011
Los Cuscatlecos registered a commendable accomplishment by getting out of the group stage in 2011, just the third time they have done so. Though recently a fringe player among Central American teams, they should be able to take advantage of a wide-open group behind strong favorites Honduras. The young squad (average age: 24.2 years old) features one MLS player – Chivas USA defender Purdy, though a significant number of players developed in the US, including goalkeeper Derby Carrillo, midfielders Richard Menjivar and Gerson Mayen and forward Dustin Corea. Former Chivas USA attacking midfielder Osael Romero is the most experienced player on the squad, with 74 caps and 16 goals for the national team.
Head coach: Israel Blake Cantero (Cuba)
Previous Gold Cup appearances: 4; quarterfinalists in 2002, 2009
It's difficult to know what to make of the Haiti squad, which is drawn from players across the globe and features just eight of the 23 (including all three goalkeepers) playing their club football in their home country. With an experienced backline anchored by veteran defender Jean-Jacques Pierre – one of four squad members who plies his trade in France's top two professional divisions – and a team brimming with confidence after holding their own in friendlies against Spain (2-1 loss) and Italy (2-2 draw) in June, an appearance by Les Grenadiers in the knockout stages isn't too farfetched a notion.
Head coach: Luis Fernando Suárez (Colombia)
Previous Gold Cup appearances: 10; runners-up in 1991
Honduras have firmly established themselves as a power in CONCACAF on the back of qualification for the 2010 World Cup and consecutive Gold Cup semifinal appearances in 2009 and 2011. Though Los Catrachos opted to leave many of the Premier League and MLS-based stars that have featured so far in their World Cup qualifying campaign, they still boast a formidable squad including MLS-based wingers Chávez and Martínez and a smattering of European-based talent including former D.C. United wide man Andy Najar, now with Belgian powerhouse Anderlecht. The squad still boasts a good mix of youth and experience, and enough talent to match their recent Gold Cup showings.
Trinidad and Tobago
Head coach: Stephen Hart (T&T)
Gold Cup appearances: 7; semifinalists in 2000
The Soca Warriors are back after missing out on the past two Gold Cups and looking very different from the team representing the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup, in 2006. Former Canada national team coach Hart will take the helm of his native country after spending the last 25 years coaching in Canada, and will count on players plucked from club sides as far off as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Thailand and India. Stoke City forward Kenwyne Jones and former Arsenal defender Justin Hoyte, now with Middlesbrough, lead the England-based contingent and could be key to T&T's knockout-round hopes, while reigning USL PRO MVP Kevin Molino will look to add to his burgeoning international experience. Former MLS players on the squad include Daneil Cyrus (Sporting KC), Chris Birchall (LA Galaxy, Columbus Crew) and Cornell Glen (New York, Dallas, Columbus, Colorado, LA, San Jose).
Honduras are the clear favorites, here, but after that things are wide open. The pressure will be on T&T to get early results against El Salvador and Haiti early on, knowing that the formidable Catrachos await at steamy BBVA Compass Stadium in the final group match. Haiti, on the other hand, could be in great shape if they can squeeze a point out of their own match against Honduras at Red Bull Arena in the first round of games, leaving Trinidad and Tobago in Miami – home to a Haitian diaspora of more than 100,000 – and El Salvador in Houston.
El Salvador should like their chances – they've shown in World Cup qualifying and the Copa Centroamericana that they go toe-to-toe with some of the more talented teams in Central America. Ultimately, they have enough talent on the roster to be able to go through alongside Honduras and one of the Caribbean teams – likely Haiti, considering the scheduling, rosters, and Haiti's "home" game in Miami.
The good news for whichever team finishes third? With the US and Costa Rica likely to put up big numbers against their Group C opponents, Cuba and Belize, it seems highly likely that the third-place team in a tight group such as this one will be one of the two third-place teams to earn a quarterfinal berth.