CONCACAF's marquee competition kicks off on July 7. For comprehensive 2015 Gold Cup coverage, bookmark this page.
United States (27th in FIFA rankings | 3rd in CONCACAF) | Automatic qualifier | All-time Gold Cup record: 48-7-6, five-time champions
Panama (54th | 4th) | 3rd place, 2014 Copa Centroamericana | 10-9-9 all-time
Honduras (75th | 7th) | Playoff | 18-17-6 all-time
Haiti (76th | 8th) | 3rd place, 2014 Caribbean Cup | 3-8-4 all-time
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DAVID AND GOLIATH
The United States are the winningest side in Gold Cup history, edging Mexico in total wins (48 to 41) despite trailing in titles (six to five), and it will be a shock to everyone in CONCACAF if the Americans don't finish atop the group after going undefeated in the 2013 tournament.
On the flip side, Haiti are simply hoping they can find their feet quickly after playing just one match this year – a 2-2 draw against China – in preparation for the tournament. There is hope, though. Les Grenadiers made the quarterfinals in two of their five previous Gold Cup appearances and even drew the US, 2-2, in the 2009 edition.
Pole position in will most likely come down to the Group A finale between the USMNT and Panama on July 13 at Sporting Park, a rematch of the 2013 Gold Cup final won by the Americans, 1-0, as well as the final match of the Hexagonal in Panama City that broke Los Canaleros' hearts and kept them from a World Cup playoff. Think San Zusi.
Panama would love nothing more than to reverse recent history, and both sides will be eager to avoid a matchup with the winner of Group B in the quarterfinals.
GROUP A SCHEDULE
|July 7 | 7 PM||Panama||Haiti||Toyota Stadium, Frisco|
|July 7 | 9:30 PM||United States||Honduras||Toyota Stadium, Frisco|
|July 10 | 6 PM||Honduras||Panama||Gillette Stadium, Foxborough|
|July 10 | 8:30 PM||United States||Haiti||Gillette Stadium, Foxborough|
|July 13 | 7 PM||Haiti||Honduras||Sporting Park, Kansas City|
|July 13 | 9:30 PM||Panama||United States||Sporting Park, Kansas City|
Michael Bradley, M, USA: The General is now The Captain. Following Clint Dempsey's US Open Cup outburst and subsequent suspension, Jurgen Klinsmann announced Bradley will wear the armband in the Gold Cup. If the last year is any indication, he'll also be the engine that drives the USMNT attack, setting the table for Dempsey and club teammate Jozy Altidore.
Blas Perez, F, Panama: Who is the second all-time leading scorer in Gold Cup history? You guessed it, Super Ratón with 10 goals. The FC Dallas No. 9 is 34 years old now, but that shouldn't slow him down too much. Give Perez an inch in the box, and he will punish you. After the disappointment of 2013, he'll be itching to cement his CONCACAF legacy.
Andy Najar, M, Honduras: MLS fans will be plenty familiar with Najar from his days at D.C. United. These days, the 22-year-old is a everyday starter for Belgian giants Anderlecht and a shoo-in starter for his country. Oh, and he scored against Arsenal in the Champions League last October.
NEXT BIG THING...
At 22, Anthony Lozano is already one of the deadliest strikers in the Honduran league. He's scored four international goals thus far in 2015, and almost singlehandedly knocked the Portland Timbers out of the CONCACAF Champions League last fall. He’s drawn interest from big European clubs, going on trial with Tottenham in 2010, playing one season for Valencia’s B team, and spending another on loan with Alcoyano in the Spanish second division. Now he’s set to emerge on the international stage as one of a new generation of Honduran talent.
Nobody really knows what to expect from Honduras, who've been poor since the World Cup last summer. What we do know is that manager Jorge Luis Pinto knows how to get the best from a team in a tournament setting, something he proved with Costa Rica in Brazil. Can you produce the same kind of results with Los Catrachos? Recent form suggests the answer is no, but don't sleep on the Colombian's ability to rally his troops at exactly the right time.
Panama have the most second-place finishes (2005, 2013) without winning a title in the history of the Gold Cup. What does that stat tell you? That the US-Mexico duopoly has been nearly impossible to break, with the two CONCACAF giants winning 11 of 12 tournaments all-time.
SIX DEGREES OF MLS
The United States lead the way with 11 players hailing from Major League Soccer, including the spine of the team in Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Bradley and Altidore (Toronto FC) and Dempsey (Seattle). Panama isn't too far behind, as Penedo (LA Galaxy) and Perez (FC Dallas) lead the way with Gabriel Torres (Colorado) providing pace and finishing ability. Honduras, meanwhile, left many of their MLS vets at home. Only Boniek Garcia (Houston) was the lone MLSer to receive a call-up.
Barring a disaster, the US will win the group, and should do so fairly comfortably. The talent gap is simply too large and the stakes too high for Klinsmann and his veteran squad to target anything but three wins in Group A.
Of course, this is CONCACAF, where disasters happen more often than not. Could Panama or Honduras shock the Americans? You bet. And if they do, the USMNT's route to the final will get much more complicated.