Is it a new era for USMNT as promised?
For the first time since that infamous night in Trinidad and Tobago nearly two years ago, the US men's national team will play a competitive game of soccer. Since their failure to qualify for the World Cup, the theme has been packaging hope, baskets at a time, for the future. Even without a permanent head coach for a year, the USMNT were handing chances to young players and largely left the "old guard" behind.
Well, the future is now. And it looks as though part of the "old guard" is still key to the team.
Gregg Berhalter benefited from the clean slate that comes with a fresh start and the team performed well in their first four games. But with their two disastrous pre-Gold Cup friendlies (losses to Jamaica and Venezuela – albeit without Christian Pulisic and others), nervous glares are becoming more prevalent. Skepticism is growing louder on social media. The vibe hasn't exactly chilled out much now that Tyler Adams has been replaced on the roster due to an injury.
None of it will matter if the USMNT go out, win the Gold Cup and look good while doing it. But what's the bare minimum? Reaching the final?
Tata Martino and Mexico turning the corner
For Mexico, there's no Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano or Hector Herrera, leaving head coach Tata Martino with far from his strongest squad to choose from. Unlike the USMNT, their pre-Gold Cup friendlies have shown no sign of struggle.
It still won't be easy for El Tri, given the star power not on the roster. But they won the Gold Cup in 2015 and enter this year's version as a favorite, despite the notable absences.
Martino's last coaching gig, with Atlanta United, ended with lifting MLS Cup, though in his first two international coaching stints with Paraguay and Argentina, he lost three Copa América finals.
Canada's welcome party
🎥 HIGHLIGHTS 🎥— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) June 11, 2019
Captain @scottyarf twice provided the finish on two impressive team goals as Canada defeated Trinidad & Tobago 2-0 in a closed-door training match in Fullerton, CA today. #CANMNT #GoldCup2019 pic.twitter.com/zKCOY7vIWr
Expectations are higher than just about ever for Canada. With Alphonso Davies, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin and many other talented players leading the way under head coach John Herdman, those assumptions aren't baseless.
Their Nations League form speaks for itself. The transfer moves and rich anticipation around the players in their squad speaks for itself. Now, it's about following through on that potential.
Paired with Mexico, Cuba and Martinique in Group A, Canada are expected to advance to the knockout round. Anything less would be a huge disappointment.
One team in Concacaf has made the Gold Cup final in back-to-back tournaments, and it's neither Mexico nor the United States. It's Jamaica.
On the other end of the USMNT's disappointing performance against Jamaica was the Reggae Boyz' strong showing. Now with Bundesliga star Leon Bailey joining the squad, they probably haven't gotten enough spotlight. The headlines have gone to the United States, Mexico and Canada. But don't sleep on Jamaica.
For the first time, non-North American nations will host Gold Cup play, as Jamaica and Costa Rica will each host group-stage doubleheaders. Beyond that, MLS venues Allianz Field (Minnesota United) and Banc of California Stadium (LAFC) will make their Gold Cup debuts.
Where will the biggest upset come from?
With the tournament expanding to 16 teams, there's more room for upsets. Which country will take the biggest scalp?
Curacao might be best positioned for a Cinderella run, with a pair of Premier League players amid a sneaky-decent team. Meanwhile, unranked Martinique will hope to carry their 4-0 Nations League form into the Gold Cup.
With North American eyes on the Gold Cup, the tournament puts players from smaller nations and leagues in front of scouts from MLS, USL and many more. It offers their biggest stage not only to represent their country, but impact their careers moving forward.
While not an identical comparison, look at what happened with Omar Browne. If he hadn't starred in the Conacaf Champions League, would the Panamanian forward have been signed by the Montreal Impact? Probably not. And Browne isn't the only talented player waiting to be discovered.