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Gold Cup 101: What it is, why it matters, and how to follow along this summer

Whether you’re a wily soccer veteran or brand new to the game, you'll want to spend much of July following the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the biennial tournament that crowns the champions of our continent. But if you fall in the latter category, you probably have a few questions. We're here to help. Let’s start with the basics.

WHAT IS CONCACAF?

Let’s start with the acronym, a veritable mouthful that’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelled: CON-kuh-kaff. CONCACAF stands for the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.

Under the umbrella of FIFA, the international soccer governing body, CONCACAF oversees and organizes the game in the 41 member countries. The United States, Mexico and Canada make up the North American contingent, with seven associations hailing from Central America and a further 31 coming from the Caribbean.

CONCACAF organizes and stages regular competitions for the region’s national teams, including the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers. It also oversees the annual continental tournament for clubs, the CONCACAF Champions League.

Recently, a number of former CONCACAF executives have been implicated in the ongoing investigation into FIFA’s business dealings, one that included the indictment and arrest of former CONCACAF president and FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb, among others, on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption.

WHAT IS THE GOLD CUP?

The CONCACAF Gold Cup is the confederation's flagship tournament for national teams. Think of it as this region's equivalent of the Euro Championship, the Copa América, the Asian Cup, or the Africa Cup of Nations. The Gold Cup was held for the first time in 1991, after it was reorganized and rebranded to replace the CONCACAF Championship, which was first contested in 1961.

The Gold Cup is held every two years with a 12-nation field: three from North America, five from Central America, four from the Caribbean. The North American nations receive automatic berths. The Central American nations qualify through a tournament called the Copa Centroamericana. The Caribbean nations qualify through the annual Caribbean Cup. 

All 12 editions of the tournament have been staged in the United States, with Mexico sharing hosting duties in 1993 and 2003. Canada, specifically Toronto, will host two games during this year's tournament.

The United States and Mexico have dominated the competition, with El Tri winning six trophies, the Americans five, and Canada the lone outsider to break up the duopoly, shocking CONCACAF with a famous victory in 2000.

WHY DOES THIS YEAR'S TOURNAMENT MATTER?

In addition to crowning the regional champion, Gold Cup champions also qualify for a playoff to determine CONCACAF’s participant in the FIFA Confederations Cup (a dress rehearsal for the World Cup featuring the champion from each region in the world). If the same team wins each of the applicable tournaments – the US won the 2013 edition – there is no playoff and that team qualifies automatically. The US can qualify directly to the 2017 Confederations Cup if they win this year's Gold Cup, but if they lose, there will be a separate playoff between the US and the 2015 champion.

This year’s tournament will also serve as the qualifying tournament for the two remaining CONCACAF spots in the 2016 Copa América Centenario. The US, Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica have already qualified, and the two remaining teams with the highest finish will join the 10 members of CONMEBOL in the combined championship to be held in the United States next summer.

However, it's important to note that, according to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL officials, the viability of the Copa América Centenario is uncertain in light of the U.S. Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation.

HOW TO WATCH AND FOLLOW THE GOLD CUP?

All games will be televised in English (FOX, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2) and Spanish (Univision, UniMás and Univision Deportes) in the United States. Sportsnet holds the Canadian rights.

Learn more about How to watch the Gold Cup online and on TV.

Five Finals. Five Stories.

Two CONCACAF teams dominate the Gold Cup: the United States and Mexico. Read our interactive presentation about five matches that helped shaped soccer in the region.