It's nearly Gold Cup time again, and that means there are players all over Concacaf feeling pressure to come up big for their respective countries in June and early July.
Some are stars being counted on to produce with the chips down on the regional table. Some are formerly integral pieces looking to re-stamp authority, either in the international game or to regain club form, or both. Some are youngsters or Gold Cup newbies aiming to establish a place in their national team set-up.
Whatever the motivation or challenge, all of them have a chance to enhance their international standing and help their nations to a measure of glory in one fell swoop if they can just enjoy a monster Gold Cup.
F Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
There's no getting around it. The US men's national team attack is still trying to find itself in the final third during a time of squad transition. If Altidore can stay fit long enough, he can be a safe bridge between eras and stay in the roster frame. When the Toronto FC striker is on, good things happen for the USMNT (such as in the 2017 Gold Cup semis and final, for example). If he's not available or up to snuff (such as in the 2009, 2011 and 2015 Gold Cups), goals could be much harder to come by when this year's edition reaches the pointy end.
GK Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
If Jamaica harbor any hope of reaching their third straight Gold Cup final (or even the semis, for that matter), they will surely need the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper to stand on his head a fair few times. The Reggae Boyz' experienced back line is decent enough, but the attack has not scored against a 2019 tourney entrant in more than 300 minutes. Expect the margin for error to be as thin as the line Blake will defend. He's carried extra weight at this tournament before (he blanked Mexico twice in 2017), and will be widely expected to do it again.
F Tyler Boyd (Ankaragücü)
Sure, why not pile the pressure on the new guy just as he walks in the door? Well... why not? Boyd will want to prove to himself that his FIFA switch was a shrewd move and prove to US fans that he's a reliable answer on the flank for a team trying to figure things out in attack. Though young US wingers have grabbed a few helpers early in 2019, the squad has not gotten a goal from a wide threat in a year and the nearest one prior to that was Jordan Morris' 2017 Gold Cup clincher. The door is wide open for on-loan Ankaragucu survival hero to play instant USMNT ace and slow the revolving door out on the wing at once.
GK Maxime Crepeau (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
For all intents and purposes, the Canada 'keeper job is currently an open position with several applicants. After several years as an MLS understudy, Crepeau has finally earned an MLS starting role and new employers Vancouver are reaping the dividends. When you exclude the seven penalty kicks (!!) he's picked from his net in 2019, the 25-year-old has conceded just eight goals in 12 league starts with a 82 percent save percentage. If Crepeau keeps that form up through camp and into June, he could begin making the CanMNT No. 1 jersey his own for years to come. Backstopping them to the semis for the first time since 2007 would be a fine start.
F Raul Jimenez (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
In his first big tournament as Mexico manager, it's fair to say that Tata Martino finds himself in a real pickle. He'll enter Gold Cup play with an attack that will, to put it extremely mildly, be missing some key weapons. For various reasons, there will be no Chicharito, no Carlos Vela, no Jesus Manuel Corona, no Diego Lainez and perhaps no Hirving Lozano, as well. If that wasn't enough, he'll also be short midfield engine Hector Herrera, aka the guy who gets the ball to the attackers in good positions.
Suffice to say, that El Tri will need to be economical in the final third. That's where Jimenez comes in. Fresh off a smashing debut Premier League campaign that saw him shine as the dominant offensive force for a Wolverhampton side that booked it's first European berth in 38 years. With Martino eager to succeed fast and Mexican fans pressing for their boys to reclaim the Gold Cup, the heat is on for Jimenez to make everyone forget the absent.
D Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)
With presumptive left center back starter John Brooks on the mend and off the Gold Cup provisional roster, that starting role is temporarily there for the taking. And if Gregg Berhalter wishes to persist with his hybrid right back-midfielder wrinkle, it's a rather important role. Long (who has been solid or better in four of his five US caps to date) excels at defending in space, an integral part of covering the back when four defenders become three. As such, a big tourney showing from him would go a long way toward a title repeat.
M Kevin Molino (Minnesota United)
If this past weekend's win over Columbus is any indication, the Minnesota United attacker is just starting to regain his soccer juju after 13 months on the recovery shelf. Playing time has been slow to come for a Loons outfit on the right side of .500 early in the MLS season, but the Gold Cup should provide a great chance for Molino to continue rounding into form. His goal-shy Trinidad & Tobago side (302 scoreless minutes heading into a tune-up friendly against Japan) rely heavily on midfield playmakers for offense, so a string of starts would seem like a win-win-win proposition for the veteran and his two teams.
M Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC)
After more than a decade out in the Concacaf wilderness, Canada are brimming with promise for the future. Most of that optimism centers around wing and strike stables suddenly stocked with exciting young players. What they are not currently blessed with is a prototype No. 10 to get them the ball. So who will that responsibility fall on? The Toronto FC man is more well known for late runner capitalism in front of goal than he is for primary assists. However, Osorio won't need to set the table himself if can keep the the likes of flank final ball artists Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies, Junior Hoilett and Bailou Tabla from starving for service.
F Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo)
After piling up 13 goals and 15 helpers during his first two seasons in MLS, the Houston winger has started this term as cold as ice. He's lost his Dynamo starting job and his mojo, but Gold Cup should offer the chance to get at least one of them back. Of course, there's also the matter of a rather experienced Honduras side having won just one of their last eight Gold Cup matches. To win their group and (presumably) avoid the US in the quarters, they'll badly need Quioto to help them reverse that slide by helping club and country teammate Alberth Elis drive production.
D Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
Obviously, there's no great urgency for the 22-year-old Atlanta United defender to barge into the US defense stable and he's probably a dark hose candidate to make the tournament squad. Even so, there's no denying Robinson as been among the best Atlanta performers this season in his first season as a regular. When it comes to seizing opportunities, they say there's no better time than the present. That's especially true when the team's back line top smooth criminal is out injured, overly mobile forwards are soon to be afoot and the boss' tactics seem likely to require the center backs blend defending on the run with safe ball movement out of trouble.