Gold Cup: Rising Canada return to big stage with reason to believe tough times could be behind them

CONCACAF's marquee competition kicks off on July 7. For comprehensive 2015 Gold Cup coverage, bookmark this page.


CANADA RELISH OPPORTUNITY TO PROVE IMPROVEMENT

More than any other team in Group B, Canada have something to prove at this Gold Cup.

Not only is it the team’s only chance to qualify for next year’s Copa America Centenario, it is a crucial litmus test as to how far Canada has truly moved forward after its awful exit from 2014 World Cup qualifying.

In 2013, Canada went winless and scored just one goal in 13 games. But Les Rouges are coming into this Gold Cup on a four-game winning streak, and looking to prove that their recent success is a sign of things to come, rather than simply a mirage.

GROUP C SCHEDULE

July 8: vs. El Salvador, Carson, Calif.
July 11: vs. Jamaica, Houston, Texas
July 14: vs. Costa Rica, Toronto

THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cyle Larin, F, Orlando City SC: By now, you know the name. The 20-year-old rookie has exploded onto the scene for club and country in 2015. He’s found the back of the net in Canada’s last three games, and provides the national team with a menacing attacking presence they haven’t had since Dwayne De Rosario’s prime years.

Jonathan Osorio, M, Toronto FC: With some key absences in Canada’s midfield—Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson—the 23-year-old will be relied upon as a spark plug for the team. He’s shown growth and versatility in his three years as a professional, and this tournament could be a golden (bad pun alert) opportunity to take his game to the next level.

Kenny Stamatopoulos, GK, AIK Stockholm: With No. 1 goalkeeper Milan Borjan missing the tournament, the 35-year-old veteran will likely be the one thrust into the spotlight. He had a stellar year for AIK in 2013 but has played irregularly since then, and has just 14 caps for Canada in a national-team career that began in 2001. His capacity to bring his 'A' game will have a big influence on Canada’s chance.

THE COACH

The Canadian Soccer Association embarked on a months-long search to find the men’s national team’s new head coach following the team’s 8-1 disaster in October 2012. On Aug. 1, 2013, Benito Floro officially assumed his role and set about putting the Canadian program back on track.

The 63-year-old Spaniard has an extensive coaching background, covering more than 30 years and five different continents—most notably, he managed Real Madrid from 1992 to 1994. Lauded by the Canadian players, he has brought a disciplined and detail-oriented approach to the job of getting Les Rouges back on the right track.

GOLD CUP HISTORY

Canada hoisted the Gold Cup trophy back in 2000, and remain one of only three countries (US, Mexico) to have ever won the tournament. They followed that up with a third-place finish in 2002, narrowly missing the final after losing a semifinal penalty shootout to the US.

Canada also narrowly missed the final in 2007, when a controversial offside call robbed Hutchinson of a late goal in the semifinal, an incident that chafes Canadian supporters to this day. Overall, Canada has been to 11 of the 12 previous Gold Cups, making the knockout stages on four occasions (2000, 2002, 2007, 2009).

Of course, Canada also won the 1985 CONCACAF Championship, which served as the qualifying tournament for the 1986 FIFA World Cup.

MLS/USA CONNECTIONS

It’s probably easier to list off the players who don’t have any sort of MLS connection. But, here we go.

There are 10 current MLSers on the squad: Quillan Roberts (Toronto FC), Marcel de Jong (Sporting Kansas City), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Karl Ouimette (New York Red Bulls), Kyle Bekker (FC Dallas), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Maxim Tissot (Montreal Impact), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC) and Tesho Akindele (FC Dallas).

Then you’ve got former MLSers such as Andre Hainault (Houston Dynamo), Dejan Jakovic (DC United), Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC/FC Dallas) and Kenny Stamatopoulos (Toronto FC).

And, also, the guys who played for a current MLS team (Whitecaps) before they were actually in MLS: Lars Hirschfeld, Adam Straith and Marcus Haber.