CONCACAF's marquee competition kicks off on July 7. For comprehensive 2015 Gold Cup coverage, bookmark this page.
Costa Rica (14th in FIFA rankings | 1st in CONCACAF) | Winners, 2014 Copa Centroamericana | All-time Gold Cup record: 16-12-18
Jamaica (65rd | 5th) | Winners, 2014 Caribbean Cup | 7-2-14 all-time
El Salvador (89th | 9th) | 4th place, 2014 Copa Centroamericana | 7-5-12 all-time
Canada (109th | 13th) | Automatic qualifier | 15-9-14 all-time, one time champion (2000)
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
Canada dances to Group B victory. lololo jk. Ticos the odds-on fave, while other three teams claw for second place to avoid US/Mexico in QF.— Daniel Squizzato (@DanielSquizzato) June 26, 2015
DAVID AND GOLIATH
The “infallible” FIFA rankings would suggest the Canadians come in as the poor, bedraggled David while Costa Rica — fresh off an amazing run in last summer’s World Cup — play the imposing Philistine warrior (that’s Goliath, by the way).
But in CONCACAF, one well-placed rock (a metaphorical rock, as opposed to the actual rocks that sometimes get hurled onto the field) can knock off any supposed giant. While Costa Rica come in as clear favorites, no result in this group would go down as an absolute shocker.
For the first time, Gold Cup matches will be played outside the United States or Mexico when a Group B doubleheader hits Toronto’s BMO Field on July 14. The marquee match will be Canada against Costa Rica, with ownership of the group likely on the line.
Besides the game’s implications for the two teams, the atmosphere at Toronto FC’s home ground — recently expanded to 30,000 — should be raucous.
GROUP B SCHEDULE
|July 8 | 8 PM||Costa Rica||Jamaica||StubHub Center, Carson|
|July 8 | 10:30 PM||El Salvador||Canada||StubHub Center, Carson|
|July 11 | 6:30 PM||Jamaica||Canada||BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston|
|July 11 | 9 PM||Costa Rica||El Salvador||BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston|
|July 14 | 6 PM||Jamaica||El Salvador||BMO Field, Toronto|
|July 14 | 8:30 PM||Canada||Costa Rica||BMO Field, Toronto|
Bryan Ruiz, F, Costa Rica: Aside from the great things he’s done in a club career that’s taken him to Belgium, the Netherlands and England, the Ticos’ captain (pictured right) also proved the massive impact that goal-line technology can have in a World Cup, when his barely-over-the-line header gave Costa Rica a 1-0 win against Italy at Brazil 2014.
Julian de Guzman, M, Canada: He accumulated his share of critics during his spell in MLS, but the 34-year-old is still one of the most accomplished players in this group. Player of the year for a La Liga club? Check. Gold Cup MVP? Check. All-time best XI for hair? We’ll let you decide.
Joel Campbell, F, Costa Rica: Though technically with Arsenal since 2011, he’s only played four more games for the Gunners than you have (which is to say, four). But the 23-year-old has been finding the back of the net on loans in France, Spain and Greece, and announced himself to the world at Brazil 2014 (which, evidently, Arsene Wenger wasn’t watching).
NEXT BIG THING...
He’s right on the verge of being the current big thing, but Canadian striker Cyle Larin — just a dozen or so games into his pro career — still qualifies as the “next” big thing. The 20-year-old was already drawing interest from European clubs while he was in college; with a solid Gold Cup, he may gain even more attention (though probably not from Arsene Wenger).
While it’s convenient to think of athletes as automatons, there are all sorts of external factors that could affect play in this group. Going from L.A. to Houston to Toronto within seven days is pretty hectic, especially given that Jamaica just came off playing in Copa America. Houston gets pretty dang hot; how will the Canadians cope? And what if any of the players happen to gobble some tainted chicken during their travels?
These four teams were drawn into the same group at the 2009 Gold Cup, with Canada and Costa Rica finishing one-two and moving on to the quarterfinals.
Additional random fact: The letters in the names of those two teams can be rearranged to spell “A Radiant Coca Sac”, which would be an awesome name for an indie rock band.
SIX DEGREES OF MLS
There are 20 current MLSers on the squads of these four teams, with Canada predictably leading the way (10), followed by Jamaica (seven), Costa Rica (two) and El Salvador (one). So if you find yourself catching some Group B action and saying, “Hey, don’t I recognize that guy?” the answer is yes, you probably do.
This isn’t the same Costa Rican team that nearly galloped into the World Cup semifinals last summer, but the Ticos still have enough firepower to top this group. A resurgent Canadian team will scrape and claw and find a way into second place ahead of Jamaica, while El Salvador will go home with some nice participant medals.
This is an unassailable prognostication that could only go awry in the event of upsets, dubious officiating decisions or general unforeseeable match-related weirdness. Thankfully, this is a CONCACAF tournament so there is no chance of any of those taking place.