The 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup is here, leaving 16 teams to vie for this summer's confederation championship title.
Broken down by nation, here's the rundown of what each contender brings to the field. They're divided into four groups and eyeing a ticket to the August 1 final at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
RELATED: Gold Cup Bracket
RELATED: Gold Cup Standings
How qualified: Canada punched their ticket with a second-place finish in Concacaf Nations League Group A.
Gold Cup history: This will be Canada's 15th Gold Cup and 12th in a row. They've made it to three title games and won it all in 2000.
Head coach: John Herdman, who guided the team to the quarterfinals of the last Gold Cup, is 18-4 since taking the reins in 2018.
Key man: Even with all the in-form forward line talent available, Alphonso Davies is still Canada's main man. From recovery help at the backend to his terrifying motor driving the attack, the Bayern Munich star can take over matches.
Player to watch: With veteran No. 1 Milan Borjan off to prepare for Champions League qualifying with Red Star Belgrade, Vancouver netminder Maxime Crepeau now has the chance to start making his name at the international level. His shot-stopping can keep Canada in games when they're under fire.
MLS connections: Thirteen players on Canada's tournament squad can currently be found on MLS rosters, and another four previously played in the league.
Projection: With some experienced cornerstone players unavailable, Canada may not have enough squad balance for a title run. Still, they should reach the knockouts for the third straight time and anything less than an admirable semifinal showing would be a disappointment.
- FIFA ranking: 50
- Gold Cup Group C
How qualified: Topping Nations League Group D did the trick.
Gold Cup history: Los Ticos are making their 16th straight appearance. They've reached the quarterfinals 11 straight times, but only reached the final in 2002. They're yet to win a Gold Cup, but did win three Concacaf Championship tourneys prior to 1991.
Head coach: Luis Fernando Suárez has been on the job for a few weeks, and his first match in charge will be Costa Rica's opener. He did have a three-year stretch in charge of Honduras for nearly a decade that saw him take Los Catrachos to consecutive Gold Cup final fours.
Key man: The Ticos are in a real rut, with an 11-game winless drought dating back to 2019 that has seen them score just six goals. If they're to turn things around at Gold Cup, veteran playmaker Johan Venegas (who is coming off a monster season with Alajuelense) will need to stir their offensive drink.
Player to watch: Costa Rica's roster is dominated by familiar players age 29 and over, so the breakout candidates are easy to pick out. Houston forward Ariel Lassiter is quite capable of adding some fresh blood to the team's sputtering attack.
MLS connections: Along with Lassiter, Francisco Calvo, Allan Cruz, Giancarlo Gonzalez and Ronald Matarrita are all current MLS players. David Guzman, Johan Venegas, Jose Guillermo Ortiz and Kendall Waston used to be in MLS.
Projection: That Costa Rica get to hold off facing main Group C threat Jamaica until the final game should help them advance to the knockouts. However, unless they find a fountain of youth, a looming quarterfinal matchup with (presumably) either the US or Canada means they probably won't get any further than that.
- FIFA ranking: 69
- Gold Cup Group A
How qualified: El Salvador dominated Group B of Nations League B to collect their ticket.
Gold Cup history: Los Cuzcatlecos are set for their 12th Gold Cup. They've made it to the quarterfinals five times, the last of which came in 2017.
Head coach: A very familiar face will roam the sidelines for El Salvador. Former USMNT ace Hugo Perez took his first senior-level head coaching job in April, and then kicked off his managerial career by winning four straight World Cup Qualifying games.
Key man: Houston midfielder Darwin Ceren isn't just the most experienced player in El Salvador's tournament squad. When he's on, the 31-year-old is also the team's conduit from defense to offense.
Player to watch: Former LAFC winger Josh Perez has quickly settled in since making his El Salvador debut last month. The 23-year-old (who FIFA-switched from the US earlier this year) notched three goals and a couple of helpers in four World Cup Qualifying games to help the team clinch a place in the final round.
MLS connections: Darwin Ceren, Seattle wingback Alex Roldan and Toronto center back Eriq Zavaleta are the only current MLS representatives on the tourney roster. Like Perez, Amando Moreno formerly played in the league.
Projection: El Salvador tend to make the knockouts from about half of their Gold Cup attempts. They'll be up against it at this edition, so we'll see if it's good or bad news that they'll face Mexico in the group closer.
- FIFA ranking: 160
- Gold Cup Group D
How qualified: An unbeaten first-place run in Group A of Nations League B earned them a spot.
Gold Cup history: The Spice Boys have qualified for their third Gold Cup adventure and first since 2011. They failed to escape the group phase on their first two tries.
Head coach: Former Canada interim manager Michael Findlay took over in January. It's been a rather rough start, with the team winning but one of his first four games in charge.
Key man: Grenada's main threat is Jamal Charles, who has 14 goals in 25 caps. He's a mobile forward who should not be given space to fire in the area.
Player to watch: If anyone besides Charles is apt to pull a rabbit out of the attacking hat, it's running mate Saydrel Lewis. He plays a physical link game and likes to haunt wide channels.
MLS connections: None of Grenada's players have MLS experience, but Charles was briefly with RSL's affiliate Real Monarchs.
Projection: Other than Martinique, who are in the "group of death," Grenada are the longest shot to advance from group play.
- FIFA ranking: not rated
- Gold Cup Group C
How qualified: They were among the three teams that survived the last-ditch Concacaf Gold Cup qualification tourney, with a nail-biting 10-9 penalty shootout triumph over Guatelama earning qualification.
Gold Cup history: The Gwada Boys have reached the tournament for the fourth time. They qualified for three in a row from 2007 (when they shocked all by finishing fourth) to 2011.
Head coach: Jocelyn Angloma, the greatest player ever to suit up for Guadeloupe, was named head coach at the end of 2017. His tenure got off to a rough start, but they enter Gold Cup play on a seven-game win streak.
Key man: Much of the pressure in a side with limited hopes lies on veteran goalkeeper Yohann Thuram, who has loads of experience from France's top two divisions and Belgium's Jupiler League. Expect him to be busy.
Player to watch: Guingamp forward Matthias Phaeton looks to have a bright future ahead of him. The 21-year-old tends to bring it when on international duty; he was once a star on France's U-16 national team and opened the scoring in each of his first two Guadeloupe caps to spark them to this Gold Cup.
MLS connections: Young forward Luther Archimede joined Red Bulls II in April.
Projection: Even though this will be their first Gold Cup in a decade, Guadeloupe aren't to be taken lightly in a group with no true on-form heavy hitter. At the same time, they do make the least convincing Group C case.
- FIFA ranking: 127
- Gold Cup Group A
How qualified: As last-minute replacements for Curacao, whose inclusion was doomed by COVID-19. "Unfortunately, the Curaçao delegation returned a significant number of positive results across their staff and players in the last round of testing," read a Concacaf statement
Gold Cup history: Guatemala were a regional power in the '60's, but haven't gone as far as the quarters since 2011. This will be their 11th Gold Cup foray.
Head coach: Under-20 coach Rafael Loredo jumped into the breach on an interim basis when the team were suddenly entered into the field. He steps in for Amarini Villatoro, who was let go earlier this week after failing to qualify for Gold Cup through traditional means.
Key man: Most of Guatemala's strong runs of results over the past decade have come with Ricardo Jerez in goal. The 35-year-old positions well, so while he may be beaten behind this defense, it won't be cheaply. In a wide open group race for second place behind Mexico, they'll need his best.
Player to watch: Darwin Lom may play in the American third flight, but he has taken to international soccer swimmingly. The 23-year-old forward has six goals in a dozen caps and various ways to notch more.
MLS connections: Former FC Dallas left back Moises Hernandez developed in the MLS side's renowned academy. Rodrigo Saravia was briefly with Columbus.
Projection: It was a surprise that Los Chapines didn't qualify in the first place, as they're a balanced team that was in decent form until the once-damning shootout loss to Guadeloupe. In another group, their chances to advance to the knockouts might be a lot slimmer. In a group with two question mark sides and Mexico, whom they tend to play tough at Gold Cups, their chances are fairly good for a team that snuck in the tournament's back door.
- FIFA ranking: 83
- Gold Cup Group B
How qualified: Fratzdy Pierrot's first-half hat trick steered Haiti past Bermuda in their final winner-take-all Concacaf Gold Cup qualification duel.
Gold Cup history: Les Grenadiers are in the tournament field for the eighth time and for the sixth time in the last eight editions. Haiti's thrilling semifinal run in 2019 represented their best Gold Cup showing, but the team did make three straight Concacaf Championship finals in the 1970s, winning one.
Head coach: A former center back who spent seven years with Nantes and earned 64 Haiti caps, Jean-Jacques Pierre was named the team's manager this spring. Haiti fell short on his first mission, getting dumped out of World Cup qualifying by Canada.
Key man: If anyone can lift this team on broad shoulders, it's striker Duckens Nazon. He's a No. 9 in the Dirk Kuijt mold, roaming all over to get in the game while never forgetting to find the net. He's actually most dangerous when his team trails. The 27-year-old is a free agent right now, so the motivation to use this tournament as an advertisement for his services is there (pay attention, MLS clubs in need of some muscle up front).
Player to watch: It's fun fact time. With captain and long-time shot-stopper Johnny Placide unavailable, the three netminders on Haiti's tournament roster have precisely one international start between them. That belongs to 21-year-old Vitoria de Setubal backstop Josue Duverger, who will be forced to learn on the Gold Cup job.
MLS connections: Columbus attacker Derrick Etienne Jr. will be on hand, as will New England Revolution II defender Francois Dulysse. Zachary Herivaux played sparingly for the Revs in five seasons as a homegrown player, while Steeven Saba never saw the field during his season with CF Montréal thanks to both the pandemic and an injury.
Projection: Haiti will want to build on a terrific run at the last Gold Cup, when they nearly reached the final. In a group with Canada and the US, it will take at least one famous upset to do that. Of course, they managed to shock the Canucks in 2019, so it's not out of the question.
- FIFA ranking: 67
- Gold Cup Group D
How qualified: Los Catrachos strolled to a first-place finish in Nations League Group C.
Gold Cup history: While Honduras won the precursory Concacaf Championship in 1981, the best result from their 14 previous Gold Cup runs was a runner-up finish back in 1991.
Head coach: After enjoying great success with Uruguay's U-17 and U-20 teams, Fabián Coito moved north to take charge of Honduras in 2019. He failed to get them out of the Gold Cup group phase two years ago, but has picked up some steam since and led the Central American side to a third-place Nations League finish last month.
Key man: Let's not be flowery: Former Houston star Alberth Elis is the real difference-maker for Honduras. He's typically going to put you under stress, and they're 6-1-2 when he scores. That he's yet to tally in seven career Gold Cup matches should leave all foes uneasy, because that probably means he's overdue and he certainly doesn't save his goals for minnows.
Player to watch: For most teams, this section focuses on younger players with breakout ability. With Honduras, the player who's arguably their weathervane is 38-year-old skipper Maynor Figueroa. The Houston center back has been known to temporarily find the fountain of youth in his national team shirt, and when he does they're tough to beat.
MLS connections: In addition to Figueroa, Bryan Acosta, Boniek Garcia and Romell Quioto currently play in MLS. In addition to Elis, Ever Alvarado, Jerry Bengtson, Debyi Flores, Luis Lopez and Walter Martinez once did.
Projection: There was an era not so long ago when Honduras were to be feared at Gold Cups, but they've bowed out after the group stage two of the last three times. I doubt that happens this time around (even if they do begin the tourney winless in seven), but nagging consistency issues usually curtail any genuine title ambitions.
- FIFA ranking: 45
- Gold Cup Group C
How qualified: The Reggae Boyz steamrolled their way to the top of Group C in National League B.
Gold Cup history: This will be Jamaica's 12th Gold Cup. They were losing finalists in both 2015 and 2017.
Head coach: One of the most-capped players in Jamaica history, Theodore Whitmore is now in his fourth and most successful tenure as national team boss. The Reggae Boyz have dropped only three of their last 17 games, with two of those defeats coming against the United States.
Key man: Even with some talent away on club duties, Jamaica have several scary field players you'll want to keep in check. Even so, this team rides on the cape of Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. He already has one Gold Cup Golden Glove prize and two final appearances to his credit.
Player to watch: Remember how I warned that the Reggae Boyz have some big-play ability? Well, no one should scare an opposing coach more than Shamar Nicholson. The 24-year-old Charleroi power forward does a bit of everything on the field, and that's great. But it's his knack for conjuring silly golazos out of nothing that truly inspires worry. Just ask the USMNT, who've seen him ring one up in each of their last two meetings.
MLS connections: Seven players, including reigning Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake and Toronto FC left back Kemar Lawrence, are currently on MLS books. Additionally, Junior Flemmings formerly spent two seasons with New York Red Bulls II.
Projection: Jamaica might be the region's preeminent roller-coaster side. In other words, they could steamroll the softest group like favorites or they could flop in entertaining ways. I'm betting on the former this time. And best be warned when they do get out of group play.
- FIFA ranking: not rated
- Gold Cup Group B
How qualified: Martinique managed to end up second in Nations League Group C without a single win.
Gold Cup history: Martinique have made it to their seventh Gold Cup and third in a row. The only time they reached the knockouts was 2002, back when Canada bounced them in a quarterfinal penalty shootout.
Head coach: Mario Bocaly has gone 6-4-4 since being hired at the end of 2017. However, he's won just one of nine matches against teams that qualified for this year's Gold Cup.
Key man: Every look at goal will be precious for this side, who are without top striker Mickaël Biron. Veteran forward Kevin Fortune has Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 pedigree, so it would do wonders if he could dial back a few years at the tournament.
Player to watch: Despite having already been a semi-regular for a few years now, 25-year-old Patrick Burner will actually see his Martinique debut at the tournament. The right back has the nimble feet and play-flow awareness to get his side out of a lot of pressure jams.
MLS connections: None of Martinique's players have played in MLS, but forward Johnny Marajo did take part in the league's Caribbean Combine back in 2018.
Projection: Martinique aren't a FIFA member, which means they haven't played a competitive match since 2019. They're also at a sizable star quality deficit to most Concacaf teams, so don't expect too much.
- FIFA ranking: 11
- Gold Cup Group A
How qualified: A perfect run through Nations League Group B ensured their entrance.
Gold Cup history: Defending champs Mexico have featured in every Gold Cup and have never failed to make it to the knockouts. El Tri have reached nine finals, winning a record eight of them.
Head coach: Expert tactician Tata Martino needs no introduction to stateside fans, having led Atlanta United to an MLS Cup triumph in 2018. Mexico have won 25 of his 30 games in charge, including a Gold Cup final victory over the US two summers back.
Key man: If shifty winger Hirving Lozano is on form, Mexico are incredibly difficult to beat. Believe it or not, this will be the Napoli man's first Gold Cup (he missed out due to injury in 2019), so his motivation should be high. That's generally bad news for the opposition.
Player to watch: Why not Efrain Alvarez? Having finally decided to wear Mexico's shirt, the attacking midfielder has enough game to cause some havoc off the bench. LA Galaxy fans can tell you all about the 19-year-old's final-third skills.
MLS connections: Former Five Stripes boss Martino has current MLS standouts Efrain Alvarez, Jonathan dos Santos and Alan Pulido on his tournament roster. What's more, Carlos Salcedo's first two pro seasons came with Real Salt Lake and forward Rogelio Funes Mori spent time in FC Dallas' youth set-up.
Projection: With more of their first-choice talent available than the other contenders (and a sizable shoulder chip from their Nations League final collapse against the US), El Tri must be considered the favorites.
- FIFA ranking: 78
- Gold Cup Group D
How qualified: Their 4-1 win over Bermuda to open Nations League Group B provided the goal differential they'd eventually need to squeak out a second-place finish.
Gold Cup history: This will be Panama's 10th appearance at the tournament. They finished as runners-up in 2005 and 2013.
Head coach: A former striker who once shared the Bundesliga Golden Boot, Thomas Christiansen has enjoyed a decent first year as an international manager. Panama have gone 7-3-1 under his guidance, with a pair of victories over Costa Rica, but were a distant second-best in games against Mexico and the US.
Key man: Nashville SC midfielder Anibal Godoy will be responsible for halting opposing rushes at the gate before sending his attack-minded teammates into good spots (and, well, keeping his card fouls to a minimum).
Player to watch: Young central midfielder Adalberto Carrasquilla put in two strong performances to help Los Canaleros push Curacao aside on their way to the final round of World Cup qualifying. The 22-year-old, who has been linked with interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Anderlecht, will need to be reckoned with in this tournament.
MLS connections: Godoy is the only one on Panama's tournament squad that now plays in MLS, but five others – including skipper Harold Cummings – used to. To boot, Philadelphia once took a training look at Carrasquilla when he was a teenager.
Projection: Along with Honduras, Panama should be considered Group D co-favorites. However, a few key cogs will be missing and reaching the knockouts will take a top effort from those on hand.
- FIFA ranking: 58
- Gold Cup Group D
How qualified: The Middle Eastern nation was offered a special invite in conjunction with the tournament's sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways.
Gold Cup history: The Crimsons will be making their Gold Cup debut.
Head coach: Felix Sanchez has a background that includes a decade as a Barcelona youth coach, and has now been in Qatar's program for eight years. He started with their U-19 side and rose through the levels to take over the senior team in 2017. The biggest feather in his cap to date came with a surprise Asian Cup crown in 2019.
Key man: Captain Hassan Al-Haydos (who already has 141 caps at age 30) starts on the right wing, but will turn up anywhere along the attacking midfield line to cause trouble for opposing defenses.
Player to watch: Yusuf Abdurisag can play up top or bookend Al-Haydos; he has the nose for space and finishing touch to make good use of the skipper's industry. The 21-year-old is yet to explode on the international scene, but enters Gold Cup play on a club form tear.
MLS connections: The next Qatari MLS player will also be the first.
Projection: In another group, it would be tempting to think that Qatar would simply make up numbers. In Group D, however, underestimating a streaking team with this much cohesion in the ranks could be very foolish. They have a puncher's chance at crashing the knockouts, and even the semis if they can manage to win their group.
- FIFA ranking: 136
- Gold Cup Group C
How qualified: A Nations League B win at Group D closing day foe Nicaragua allowed them to grab the qualifying ticket that came with first place.
Gold Cup history: Though they competed in a pair of Concacaf Championships prior to 1991, this will be Suriname's first Gold Cup experience.
Head coach: Steeped in Dutch-style soccer, Dean Gorre is nearly three years into his second stint as Suriname manager. They've fared very well against minnows in that time, but he's yet to defeat a team that's in this Gold Cup field.
Key man: Gold Cup underdogs must keep the scores down to have any chance of making a splash, and that means backline marshal Ryan Donk has to be in top form. He may now be part-time for Galatasaray at 35 years old, but the well-seasoned skipper is still Suriname's main man in defense.
Player to watch: With excellent pace and craft, Sheraldo Becker seems the attacker most likely to trouble better teams in the field. A versatile offensive weapon, he emerged as a dangerous supplemental weapon for Bundesliga surprise package Union Berlin last season.
Projection: On the face of it, Suriname getting here would seem to be accomplishment enough. The thing is, this squad has too much experience in the Eredivisie, other mid-range European leagues and UEFA cup competitions to be dismissed so easily. It's no sure thing, but Suriname could be the Curacao of the 2021 tournament.
- FIFA ranking: 103
- Gold Cup Group C
How qualified: Following a 1-1 regulation draw in their decisive Concacaf Gold Cup qualification tilt with a pesky French Guiana side, Trinidad and Tobago buried all eight of their spot-kicks to take an 8-7 shootout victory.
Gold Cup history: The Soca Warriors are in the Gold Cup field for the 11th time. The closest they've come to reaching the title match was in 2000, when eventual champs Canada edged them out in the semis.
Head coach: Former Trindad and Tobago midfielder Angus Eve was handed the caretaker reins less than a month ago. He's perfect through two games on the job, but the qualifying win that got the team here was much tougher than expected.
Key man: It has to be Kevin Molino, who will be charged with both driving the attack and finishing plays. The Columbus play driver has scored in four of his last six international outings.
Player to watch: Hopes are high for young forward Isaiah Lee, who was a real menace at the U-20 level. Lee busting out at the senior level during the tournament is their best shot at reaching the knockouts for the first time since 2015.
MLS connections: Aside from Columbus ace Molino, former MLS hands Aubrey David, Alvin Jones and Ryan Telfer are also on the roster. Real Salt Lake defender Noah Powder was a late addition, too, as an injury replacement.
Projection: Not only are the Soca Warriors in a slow-moving talent transition phase, but they have to open against Mexico. That means they'll be playing catch-up, leaving their outlook for advancement to the final eight in doubt.
- FIFA ranking: 20
- Gold Cup Group C
- Gold Cup Roster
How qualified: The USMNT eased to qualification by topping Nations League Group A.
Gold Cup history: Like Mexico, the United States have participated in every Gold Cup tournament. And like their arch-rivals, they've advanced to the knockout phase all 15 times to date. They've emerged as champions from six of the 11 finals they've reached.
Head coach: Gregg Berhalter narrowly missed winning the Gold Cup on his first competitive mission in charge two years ago. The USMNT are 20-6-3 under his leadership and have dropped just one game in their last 13.
Key man: With so many missing stars, this is a tough call. If you asked 10 people, you may get 10 different answers. I was originally leaning toward Paul Arriola, but let's go with Matt Turner since this is a tournament and spot-kicks could come into play. The New England Revolution goalkeeper is a shot-stopping wizard from the run of play; he's also stopped seven penalties as a pro.
Player to watch: Most teams in the field simply won't be able to handle Daryl Dike physically. When he gets loose, it generally spells trouble because the 20-year-old is an accurate marksman. And heaven help any tiring defenders that need to corral the Orlando City sniper if he comes off the bench.
MLS connections: Berhalter both played and coached in MLS, and 19 player call-ups currently hold day jobs in the league. Reggie Cannon no longer does, but he played four seasons for FC Dallas before departing last September.
Projection: Can the US reclaim the crown without their top Europe-based guns? It seems less than likely, and not just because the squad is short on big-game experience at this level. There's enough in the locker to reach the final, but that's a less safe bet than usual.