This world has always been cruel, but it's felt triply so since March 2020. Curacao were on the brink of testing themselves against Mexico, further establishing their fledgling program as a rising force in Concacaf by getting out of Group A and maybe even besting their 2019 quarterfinal run.
Instead, they’ll miss out on the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup altogether at the final hour following a “significant number” of positive COVID-19 tests among the Curacao delegation. It’s necessary, but it’s a shame for the players, coaches and country. Guatemala are taking their place.
The tournament starts Saturday night when Mexico face Trinidad and Tobago at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Group B, which includes the US men’s national team and Canada, is up on Sunday. Joe Lowery gave you the MLS names to watch on the USMNT. Peter Galindo has the lowdown on Canada. There’s a full tournament guide, too. Now, I’m here to highlight six other MLSers who could play a big (or interesting) role at this summer’s tournament.
Let’s get to it … but first a reminder! Extratime "Club & Country" will go LIVE on YouTube, Twitter, the MLS app and MLSsoccer.com after every USMNT game. Join Charlie Davies, Matt Doyle, David Gass and yours truly as we break down the performance from Gregg Berhalter and the boys, the other result in Group B and the biggest stories around the tournament. You can listen on-demand wherever you listen to podcasts!
Gold Cup team: Mexico
Jonathan dos Santos is the most likely MLSer to force his way into Tata Martino’s starting lineup. Alan Pulido could play a big role as an attacking substitute. We know what they bring to El Tri. Their roles are not a mystery.
The same cannot be said for Efra, who Tata has put a ton of faith in and brought off the bench in the most recent tune-up win over Nigeria. What if the LA Galaxy teenager has a bright moment or two? What if he scores his first senior international goal for Mexico in this tournament? What if? That’s been the story of Alvarez’s professional career so far and it holds true here, too.
Gold Cup team: Trinidad and Tobago
It’s been rough going for Trinidad and Tobago lately. Saint Kitts and Nevis won the group in Concacaf’s first round of World Cup qualifying, ending the Soca Warriors' Qatar dream early. On Tuesday, it took 15 penalty kicks for them to get past French Guiana and into the Gold Cup after a 1-1 draw.
Who scored in that draw? Kevin Molino, whose 22 international goals are only four shy of what the rest of the team has altogether. For T&T to have any chance of redemption for their WCQ failure, Molino must lead the way.
Gold Cup team: El Salvador
The Roldans (Seattle Sounders starters and brothers) are one of the tournament’s best stories. Cristian, the elder, is trying to break into Gregg Berhalter’s first-team plans with the United States. Alex, the younger, is just beginning his international journey with El Salvador after deciding to play for La Selecta over Guatemala, for whom he was also eligible and there was interest.
Well, guess what? With Curacao out of the tournament, Roldan’s first-ever international match will now be El Salvador vs. Guatemala! \\cue Heineken commercial\\ That’s liffffffe! Former US national teamer Hugo Perez is the manager. It will be interesting to see how he utilizes Roldan as El Salvador navigate a tough and changed group.
Gold Cup team: Haiti
Sure, Canada got revenge for that Gold Cup loss in 2019 by ushering Haiti out of World Cup qualifying by a 4-0 aggregate score over two legs. But Haiti wouldn’t have even been in that position if not for Etienne, who scored a huge goal against Nicaragua to get his country out of the first round.
The Columbus Crew attacker is a starter for manager Jean-Jacques Pierre, but he’ll have the same weight on his shoulders as the rest of the team. Namely, the political chaos currently enveloping the nation they represent following the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise. The odds are against Haiti since the US and Canada are also in Group B, but perhaps soccer can provide a much-needed distraction from the crisis back home.
Gold Cup team: Jamaica
During Extratime’s tournament preview podcast, I asked Jon Arnold (of Getting CONCACAFed fame) who he thought had the best chance to win the tournament outside the US, Mexico and Canada (yes, I have high hopes). His answer: Jamaica. It’s a good answer. They’ve made two of the last three finals.
They’ve got difference-makers, too. Leon Bailey is one, even if we haven’t quite seen him at his best for the Reggae Boyz. Shamar Nicholson is as well. Adrian Mariappa and Kemar Lawrence are key on the defensive side of the ball. However, none may be more important than Andre Blake. If the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper goes on a heater, Jamaica could very well win Group C. From there, as we saw in 2015 when they beat the US in the semis and in 2017 when they did the same to Mexico, anything is possible.
Gold Cup team: Honduras
The man has 168 international caps, good for tied-for-13th all-time in the men’s game. His first senior cap came in 2003. That was 18 years ago. Absurd career, really. It just wouldn’t be the Gold Cup without Maynor Figueroa wearing the C in the center of Honduras’ defense.