The 2014 Copa Centroamericana kicks off next Thursday, and for the first time Central America's premier national team tournament will be played on US soil, in Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C. In that light, we bring you a special edition of the FutbolMLS Digest, which brings you all the best Spanish-language content from FutbolMLS.com.
Also, be sure to bookmark the Copa Centroamericana homepage to stay updated throughout the tournament and check out MLSsoccer.com's preview of the weekend action ahead in this week's Starting XI.
Here's the deal: The Copa Centroamericana is contested by the seven member countries of UNCAF – the regional body governing soccer in Central America. Those countries are: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
Costa Rica are by far the most successful team in the history of the tournament, having won seven of the 12 titles contested since the competition began in 1991, including the most recent in 2013. Honduras follow with three titles, while Guatemala and Panama have each won once.
The seven teams will be divided into one group of three and one group of four. The group winners will earn a spot in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and move to the final, while they will face off for a place in the 2016 Copa América Centenario. The group runners-up will also qualify for the 2015 Gold Cup and contest the third-place match, while the teams finishing third in each group will face each other for fifth place, which also confers UNCAF's remaining berth in the 2015 Gold Cup.
Here are team-by-team previews for each side involved:
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Central America has long been a source of talent for MLS, and many of the players who have later moved on to have successful careers in MLS and elsewhere cut their teeth in the Copa Centroamericana. The tournament has been a source of young up-and-comers since the days when teams were composed largely of domestic-based players.
This year, two of the tournament's four fixture dates (Sept. 3, Sept. 7) fall within the FIFA international window, which runs Sept. 1-9, meaning national teams can call up players from across the globe for those two games, but not for games on Sept. 10 and 13, unless the player's club has given permission. As such, we'll see a number of MLS- and European- based players for at least part of this year's tournament (click here for preliminary rosters).
A number of those players, including Portland Timbers winger Rodney Wallace and his Seattle Sounders counterpart Marco Pappa, make up FutbolMLS.com's list of players to watch in the tournament. Be sure to check it out, not only to see if your team's players might be primed for a big tournament, but to find out which guys your MLS team may be scouting.
In a region known for producing plenty of technically-gifted players, it's no surprise that the Copa Centroamericana has produced its fair share of special goals. Here's a rundown of the best we've seen throughout the years, including a number of entries from MLS players past and present. A taste from recently-departed Columbus Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez:
YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING
The Copa Centroamericana won't be interrupting your regular FutbolMLS programming, and Spanish-speaking listeners can enjoy another edition of Tiro Libre Radio right here.
This week, Fabian Castillo joins the crew to discuss his extraordinary season, where he has scored nine goals and added four assists and has looked nearly unplayable at times. Most notably, he recognizes the influence first-year FCD head coach Oscar Pareja has had on harnessing his abundant talent, and how Pareja has become something of a father figure to his fellow Colombian.
And let's not forget, it was another big week of happenings in MLS, and the panel discussed it all – most notably the call-up of Chivas USA star Erick 'Cubo' Torres to the Mexican national team, the sale of Gonzalez by the Crew to Italy's Palermo, and the arrival of Jermaine Jones with the New England Revolution.