The 2019 Gold Cup is nearly here, which means it's time for another healthy helping of players ready to raise their Concacaf stature to a whole new level.
We know how hard it is to keep track of 16 teams (expanded field!), so it only seems proper to come up with a cheat sheet of players capable of enhancing their reps with a big tournament.
A majority of the players on this watch list either play in MLS or did until recently, while a couple of the others might make excellent import targets during a future transfer window. A few of these mentions will be of developing stars who have already establishing themselves. There's also some young veterans being counted on to shine in their first big Gold Cup test and a smattering of precocious talents in important roles that you may not be properly acquainted with yet.
Some here will tick more than one of those boxes. All of them are worth keeping track of as the tournament unfolds.
D Edson Alvarez, Mexico
Though a fine center back in club life, Alvarez is typically used by Mexico as a right back or, more recently, in defensive midfield. Wherever Tata Martino stations the the 21-year-old (already the veteran of one full Gold Cup and four World Cup matches), he's a wily gamer. Though he left El Tri's midweek friendly win over Venezuela with a knee knock, the youngster expects to pass a late fitness check before the tournament begins.
M Jonathan David, Canada
You already know very well of the awesome threat contained by former Vancouver starlet Alphonso Davies, so we decided to put another spotlight on the guy charged with ensuring Canada opponents can't pay too much attention to the Bayern Munich prodigy. David, who reportedly could soon follow Davies to the Bundesliga, is tough to track because he can turn up anywhere in attack. The slippery teen is fresh off a rookie campaign with Gent that saw him notch 14 goals and a slew of helpers in just under 2,300 minutes, and already has hit four times from as many Canada outings.
M Mark-Anthony Kaye, Canada
We've all seen the impressive trajectory in the LAFC midfield general's play the past couple of seasons. Kaye breaks up plays heading toward his box, moves out of trouble and shrewdly sends his team in the other direction. In a Canada side with a questionable backline and a sudden scad of scary attackers, the 24-year-old midfielder could be the key to steering John Herdman's bunch back toward Gold Cup glory.
M Allan Cruz, Costa Rica
Often saddled with a more attacking role than he's accustomed to at FC Cincinnati, Cruz should cozily fit back into the heart of midfield for Costa Rica at the Gold Cup. The 22-year-old is one of several players here set for his Gold Cup debut. The Ticos haven't reached the final in 17 years, and any script for accomplishing a long-awaited return likely includes Cruz positively ushering traffic through central park.
M Jimmy Marin, Costa Rica
A heads-up to Costa Rica's upcoming Gold Cup opponents as well as MLS scouting departments: This 21-year-old Herediano wide threat has a knack for getting loose and finishes cleverly. While his national team playing time is on the upswing, Marin may primarily be used as a bench weapon at this tournament. Even so, that would just give him plenty of tiring legs to run past.
D Danilo Acosta, Honduras
Here's an interesting case. Can the talented, but enigmatic Orlando City left back freshen up the position for Honduras while his first national team still struggles to solidify that slot? Acosta played for the US Under-20's, but did not feature during a senior team call-up. He's now made a FIFA allegiance switch (not the last player on this list to do so, it should be noted) to his birth country just in time for a possible coming out party with a team hungry to reach its first Gold Cup final.
GK Andre Blake, Jamaica
If Jamaica intend to make it three Gold Cup final appearances in a row, they will need the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper to routinely stand on his head. Of course, he already did that once in the 2017 edition, shutting out Mexico twice on the way to runner-up honors, a tournament Best XI nod and the Golden Glove prize. Blake is the only guy here with a prior Gold Cup starring role, but he'll definitely be aiming to go even further (as in one more victory) this year.
F Alberth Elis, Honduras
Speaking of Group C co-favorites Honduras, all eyes should definitely be on their star man Elis. I probably didn't need to tell you that, as the 23-year-old Houston Dynamo winger seems to get better every year and has four goals in his last six competitive Concacaf matches. He's a fast approaching wrecking ball to any defense, and will have a point to prove after coming up empty during a 2017 Gold Cup quarterfinal run that ended with an agonizing 1-0 defeat to Mexico.
F Shamar Nicholson, Jamaica
If you'd like a presentation of what the 22-year-old Jamaica forward can conjure up, just go revisit the highlights from their 1-0 friendly victory over the USMNT on Wednesday. Nicholson hopped off the bench to make the difference with a cracker from long range that left Zack Steffen no chance. He may also be of extra interest to MLS scouts, as he was one that got away despite a positive trial with Philadelphia a few years back.
GOAL: Shamar Nicholson hits a spectacular strike past Zack Steffen
M Tyler Boyd, United States
If the winger can put up a few productive outings, he'll be a fast USMNT hero. Boyd eliminate defenders on the rush for breakfast, which means he may actually be better suited to star against top title rivals like Mexico, who’ll play forward to open space behind wingbacks that pinch into the O-zone (hockey term). Goals from the flank are always a plus at a short tournament, and the 24-year-old can finish, too.
F Omar Browne, Panama
Major League Soccer fans and foes have gotten a quick introduction to the destructive power of the Montreal dribble wizard. Browne can breaks line by himself anywhere on the field with sheer elusiveness and has plenty of tricks in his bag for when play reaches the opposing area. Do you want to understand how the Impact have done well enough without Nacho Piatti to stand second in the East? Here's a big reason.
GK Zack Steffen, United States
Before he jets from Columbus to Manchester City, Steffen will take on the challenge of his first tournament as the US starter in goal. Until Jamaica managed to beat him this week, the 24-year-old was perfect against potential Gold Cup opponents, having shut out Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama. Don't forget: a tournament means the possibility of penalties, and Steffen has turned away nine of 23 spot efforts on frame (with another trio of tries missing off the post) as a top level pro.