To conclude the two-part CONCACAF Gold Cup preview, I assess Groups B and C which involve Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti and Cuba…
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Manager: Stephen Hart, Leo Beenhakker, Hutson Charles
Opening fixture: v El Salvador 08/07/13 (Red Bull Arena)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Semifinals (2000)
Chances of success? There is a sense of optimism given the changes in management over recent weeks, guided by TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee. Stephen Hart, a former national team member, comes in as head coach on a two-year deal while 2006 World Cup boss, Leo Beenhakker (see above), has been named the new Director of Football on a six-month deal. Hutson Charles has stayed on, as assistant coach, but Jamaal Shabazz has left his post. With 70-year-old Dutchman Beenhakker advising and Hart overseeing most aspects of the setup, the combination should flourish. Trinidad are back after a lengthy absence out of the Gold Cup, with their last appearance coming in 2007 when they finished bottom of their group with a single point. A sound group stage finish is needed in the US.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? Having watched the recent friendlies against Romania and Estonia in early June, it was apparent that there is a deprivation of firepower up top. Too many times would a cross be whipped in with no man there to be seen. Kenwyne Jones could be the answer but his indifferent form for Stoke makes him hard to predict. Elsewhere, the new addition of Middlesbrough full-back Justin Hoyte is a bold and excellent one. Experienced, sprightly and a good decision-maker, he should become a key part of the defence in years to come. Other notable mentions picked in the roster are Carlos Edwards, Andre Boucaud and Khaleem Hyland.
With a new management team at the helm, there is a sense of optimism
Key players? Skipper Densill Theobald is a commanding midfielder, fresh-faced left-back Joevin Jones is tipped to shine in the future and Port Vale’s Chris Birchall provides guile and zest. Hyland, of Genk in Belgium, offers a creative edge and Kazakhstan-based Radanfah Abu Bakr looked imposing in the friendly matches.There are plenty of good players, both local-based and foreign-based.
System? 4-5-1 was favoured against Romania and Estonia but it didn’t really function properly. The lone striker was often left isolated, meaning the bulk of the attacking play was forced out wide where the opposition jockeyed and attacks fizzled out. Trinidad haven’t scored in their last 570 minutes of football so goals need to be top priority. The midfield can keep the ball but strikers Cornell Glenn, Jamal Gay and Jones will need to be on song.
Manager: Israel Blake Cantero
Opening fixture: v Honduras 08/07/13 (Red Bull Arena)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Quarterfinals (2002, 2009)
Chances of success? Going on their recent displays in friendlies against Spain and Italy, Haiti stand a very good chance of going far in the Gold Cup. They narrowly lost to Spain, 2-1, and picked up a truly memorable 2-2 draw with Italy, carving out two goals in the last seven minutes of play. Les Grenadiers have never reached past the quarter-finals, having finished at that stage in 2002 and more recently 2009 – when they were defeated 4-0 by a rampant Mexico. Haiti are in strong form and they pose a big threat on the counterattack.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? The Haitians are rich in power and boast several rough diamonds in attack. They are clever at soaking up pressure and then using their key assets sharply: looking long for either one of Kevern Belfort, Leonel Saint-Preux or Peguero Jean Philippe (see above, with shirt off). The defence can look shaky at times, with Czech-based Kevin Lafrance the most accomplished figure in the backline, but this lot will run all day. There is an underlying will to battle and fight for each other and that will bode well heading into the competition.
Impressive in recent friendlies v Spain and Italy, they’re in good form
Key players? Tricky winger Jeff Louis – who plays his club football with French club Nancy – was marvellous against Italy and will try and take on anybody, regardless of their reputation. Wilde Donald Guerrier – currently attracting interest from several clubs in Poland – is an exciting prospect and PSG winger Jean Eudes Maurice is the most high-profile of the lot. He can go either way and can fill in as a midfielder or forward.
System? In the recent friendlies, Haiti played with one frontman but the midfielders provided great support. Against Italy, in the second half, Herold Charles Junior and MLS-based Jean Alexandre were spraying passes all over the pitch and started to open up spaces with their intricacy. Phillipe is an impact substitute, as he showed against the Italians with his last-gasp equalizer after coming off the bench. Maurice and Louis can offer defensive work, too, and it looks like Cantero will stick with this system for the Gold Cup.
Team: El Salvador
Manager: Agustín Castillo
Opening fixture: v Trinidad & Tobago 08/07/13 (Rose Bowl Arena)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Quarterfinals (2002, 2003, 2011)
Chances of success? El Salvador are somewhat of an unknown footballing team. They aren’t renowned for playing the sport and rarely send ripples across the region. Steady and with a decent squad, they’ll be looking to try and emulate their quarter-finals feat in 2011. They were agonizingly close to qualifying for the semi-finals but suffered penalty heartbreak as Panama won 5-3. Their coach Agustin Castillo was only appointed in the summer of last year following the departure of Uruguayan coach Rubén Israel.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? A substantial part of the squad plays football in El Salvador for clubs such as C.D. FAS and Alianza and there have been a lot of recent call-ups in the last year (27 in 2013 alone) which perhaps emphasises the fact Castillo is still experimenting with his side.
There have been 27 call-ups to squad this year alone as Castillo experiments
Key players? MLS-based Steve Purdy provides a threat in the air, Jaime Alas is one to keep an eye on in midfield for La Selecta and Rodolfo Zelaya – who plays for FC Alania Vladikavkaz in Russia – has 13 goals in 33 appearances.
The View from the Inside: “El Salvador will be happy just to have reached the Gold Cup, having qualified by the slimmest of margins. Drawn in a tough group, they will have to be at their best to progress to the knockout stages – a task made harder by an inability to score: the team have found the net just twice in seven games this year. The goalscoring burden will once more fall upon strikers Rafael Burgos and Zelaya, both of whom have made the jump to Europe.” Dan Rawley (owner of world football blog http://drawley.wordpress.com/)
Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez
Opening fixture: v Haiti 08/07/13 (Red Bull Arena)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Runner-up (1991)
Chances of success? Honduras are a common sight in the Gold Cup, as this will be their 11th appearance. In the last two tournaments, they have done brilliantly well, reaching the semi-finals only to lose to the US (2009) and Mexico (2011). They will definitely be counted upon to advance from the group stages. If the team can reach the last four, then even better.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? There will be no Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios, Roger Espinoza, Emilio Izaguirre or Jerry Bengtson as Honduras embark on this Gold Cup journey with a very inexperienced squad. Two out of the four forwards selected are uncapped, and the other two have just seven international goals between them. Key players are missing which could have an impact.
Their 11th appearance at the tournament, they’ll be expected to get out of the group stages comfortably
Key players? The midfield area is Honduras’ strongest. 20-year-old Andy Najar, of Belgian side Anderlecht, is a prodigious talent. But much will be relied upon MLS-based duo Mario Martinez and Marvin Chavez, plus Hibernian’s Jorge Claros.
The View from the Inside: “After reaching the 2010 World Cup and impressing at the London Olympics, Los Catrachos will be looking to improve on consecutive semi-final appearances and reach a first final since 1991. On paper, Luis Fernando Suarez’s charges have been handed a kind draw and qualification from Group B should be a formality, with a feisty crunch match against neighbours El Salvador being the stand-out fixture.” Tom Robinson (contributor to Lovely Left Foot, A Football Report & owner of http://malalechefutbol.wordpress.com/)
Manager: Walter Benítez
Opening fixture: v Costa Rica 09/07/13 (Jeld-Wen Field)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Quarterfinals (2003)
Chances of success? With the island’s Under-20 team punching well above their weight at the moment, having just crashed out of the U20 World Cup in Turkey, it’s now time for the seniors to take centre stage. Winners of last year’s Caribbean Cup, playing their way to the tournament’s title with entertaining and fluid football, you could say the onus is on them the most to deliver out of the Caribbean nations. Cuba have been drawn into a reasonable group where second place is a genuine possibility. Their last appearance was in 2011, when they finished rock bottom of Group A with zero points. It can’t get any worse this time around.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? An entirely domestic-based squad, the enthusiasm to work hard and put the opposition under pressure will be evident but Cuba lack the technical skills of their Gold Cup counterparts. The players aren’t professional and the standard of coaching isn’t excellent. The Caribbean Cup is no match for the rigours of the Gold Cup and in terms of transitional play – moving the ball from one area of the field to another with intensity – you’d envisage Bentitez’s men struggling.
The Cubans can relax, play without fear and look to emulate their success at Caribbean Cup
Key players? Ariel Martinez, 27, impressed at the Caribbean Cup with two strikes. Yoel Colomé is the side’s best defender and his older brother, Jaime, has over 50 caps for the national team and 10 goals. The pair both play for top-flight outfit La Habana.
System? Alexei Zuásnabar is likely to start up front and he will need a supportive bevy of midfield players behind him. The aforementioned Martinez is a lively figure in the middle and will no doubt look to drift out wide. Cuba can play without pressure, relax and try and replicate the sort of free-flowing football they so effectively produced to get here.
Manager: Charlie Slusher
Opening fixture: v USA 09/07/13 (Jeld-Wen Field)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: N/A
Chances of success? Ever so slim. For Belize, this competition is all about gaining experience and cherishing playing against teams they could previously only dream of facing. They are making their debut at the Gold Cup after clinching fourth place at the Copa Centroamericana and kick off with an almighty task against the US. It is the classic David vs Goliath contest but you never know, stranger things have happened in football. Whatever happens, Belize are here on merit and we shouldn’t forget that.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? The squad is predominantly compromised of home-based players with the exception of two Honduras-based individuals: Elroy Smith and Harrison Róchez. It is widely expected that Belize will park the bus and look to get as many men behind the ball as possible. They will get chances but the important thing is taking them, something which is intuitive and can only be taught to a certain extent.
Deon McCaulay, a recent trialist in the MLS, is a likely goal source
Key players? There are two main players: captain Dalton Eiley who stars for Belizean champions Placencia Assassins and frontman Deon McCaulay, who in February this year had a trial with Portland Timbers. He has scored 16 times in 26 matches for his country.
The View from the Inside: “As the lowest FIFA-ranked nation in this summer’s Gold Cup (at 129), qualification is a considerable achievement given Belize has only been playing international football since 1995 and FIFA suspended its association in 2011 over charges of government interference. Despite that, the Belize government has pledged 50,000 Belize dollars (approx. 25,000 US dollars) to the team, as excitement runs high on their journey to the United States. They conceded just three goals in four games during their Copa Centroamericana run. Sitting deep and counterattacking might be the best strategy.” Henryk Szadziewski (global football enthusiast & owner of http://putbolchi.blogspot.co.uk/)
Team: Costa Rica
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
Opening fixture: v Cuba 09/07/13 (Jeld-Wen Field)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Runner-up (2002)
Chances of success? The last three editions of the Gold Cup have been particularly memorable for Costa Rica. And not in a good way. In 2011, they suffered penalty heartbreak to Honduras in the quarter-finals, two years earlier reached the semi-finals but again endured spot kick misery against Mexico and in 2007, Mexico beat them in the quarters, through an extra-time goal. The side frequently make easy work of getting past the group stages, but crumble at the final few hurdles. It will be intriguing to see how they do this year.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? Costa Rica will be without the languid creativity of Fulham playmaker Bryan Ruiz, fearlessness of Joel Campbell of Arsenal and pace of Everton’s Bryan Oviedo but, nonetheless, are still bringing a well-equipped squad. The country’s fans shouldn’t be worried.
Key chore of squad not there, but expectations still run high
Key players? Júnior Díaz is an experienced Bundesliga central defender, Sweden-based Celso Borges has 49 caps in midfield and star striker Álvaro Saborío is a goal machine.
The View from the Inside: “Sitting top of the Hexagonal World Cup qualifiers, Costa Rica are entering the Gold Cup on the back of some great form. Pitted against the United States in Group C, the two will most likely go head-to-head for top spot. There is a certain amount of unfinished business between the sides after Los Ticos lost in blizzard conditions back in March so they’ll be desperate for revenge.” Tom Robinson (contributor to Lovely Left Foot, A Football Report & owner of http://malalechefutbol.wordpress.com/)
Manager: Jürgen Klinsmann
Opening fixture: v Belize 09/07/13 (Jeld-Wen Field)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Champions on four occasions
Chances of success? Along with Mexico, Klinsmann’s men are clear favourites to win the Gold Cup. Expectations run high in a country with football-obsessed fans and a considerable pool of talent in which to choose from. They must reach the Final, otherwise it will be deemed an unsuccessful tournament. The US have an impressive history, winning it four times, their latest feat in 2007. The team are firmly expected to finish at the summit of Group C.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? Very strong. The squad is filled with players with clubs dotted around the globe, in Spain, England and Norway to name but a few. The backline is solid, midfield tactically aware and the return of Landon Donovan is a pleasant sight for the county’s supporters.
Winners of the Gold Cup four times, failure to reach knockout phase will be classed as calamity
Key players? The big names won’t be there: Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore. They are given rest but despite that, the likes of Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu and Stuart Holden – returning from injury – are more than capable of carrying this team to Gold Cup glory.
The View from the Inside: “Klinsmann is giving his big stars some summer vacation but insists he still has enough talent to win the competition. He’s probably right. The manager’s roster blends veteran players hoping to break back into his best team and young guys who have seen little to no time in the Stars and Stripes. There are other familiar faces in the group like the Tijuana trio of Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Herculez Gomez, who have all played roles in World Cup qualifiers. Not making the knockout stages would be an absolute calamity.” Jon Arnold (writes about USMNT at NASN Soccer, American Soccer Now & more)
By Nathan Carr
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Special thanks to Dan Rawley, Tom Robinson, Henryk Szadziewski and Jon Arnold for their extended views on the respective countries. All stats/figures used are correct at time of publishing. You can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.