I react to the unveiling of the 2017 Gold Cup groups and schedule, assessing the draw from a Caribbean perspective…
The groups (A-C) and schedule were announced by CONCACAF for this year’s Gold Cup – to take place 7-26 July – at Levi’s® Stadium on Tuesday.
Here they are below:
GROUP A – Honduras, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Canada.
07/07: French Guiana vs Canada, Honduras vs Costa Rica. Venue: Red Bull Arena.
11/07: Costa Rica vs Canada, Honduras vs French Guiana. Venue: BBVA Compass Stadium.
14/07: Costa Rica vs French Guiana, Canada vs Honduras. Venue: Toyota Park.
A tricky group for debutants French Guiana, the only Caribbean representatives in Group A. Yana Doko will open the tournament against 2000 Gold Cup champions, Canada, before playing Central American champions, Honduras, and Costa Rica, who are one of the most formidable teams within CONCACAF. They have proven in the past that they can beat the Hondurans, securing a 3-1 win in the CFU-UNCAF playoff first leg two years ago prior to losing 3-0 in the second leg. There were reports circulating at the backend of last year that former Chelsea star Florent Malouda, who is from French Guiana, was being targeted by the Ligue de Football de la Guyane for a maiden call-up, as well as French youth international striker Odsonne Edouard (also French Guianese-born) and Metz defender Simon Falette, who is from the French diaspora. Additions of this quality would obviously enhance the squad, but it’s important that those core players who helped get them to this stage are not frozen out. Could they do what fellow French overseas department Guadeloupe did in 2007 and make the semi-finals? That would be a very tall order indeed, but the team do have the capacity to raise a few eyebrows this summer. As goalkeeper Donovan Leon said last year, the Gold Cup is French Guiana’s World Cup because they’re not affiliated to FIFA. So, seeing as this is their debut too, walking out onto the Red Bull Arena turf will absolutely be a landmark moment for French Guianese football.
GROUP B – United States, Panama, Martinique, Haiti/Nicaragua (CFU-UNCAF playoff).
08/07: United States vs Panama, Martinique vs Haiti/Nicaragua. Venue: Nissan Stadium.
12/07: Panama vs Haiti/Nicaragua, United States vs Martinique. Venue: James Raymond Stadium.
15/07: Panama vs Martinique, Haiti/Nicaragua vs United States. Venue: FirstEnergy Stadium.
This group will likely see the United States and Panama take the top two spots, but Martinique certainly have the potential to progress to the last eight as a best third-placed team. They’re making their first appearance at the tournament since 2013, when they beat Canada in their opener (who remembers that fantastic Fabrice Reuperne strike at the very end?) and suffered closely fought defeats to Panama (1-0) and Mexico (3-1). Les Matinino were very consistent throughout qualifying, finishing top of their group at all three rounds, winning 17-2 on aggregate across their six games – the best defensive record out of any team during qualifying. That run included a 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago in Fort-de-France which was not an expected result beforehand and ultimately sealed their place at the Gold Cup. Similarly to French Guiana, they are also reportedly looking to add a few fresh faces to the group, with manager Jean-Marc Civault not ruling out possible call-ups for striking duo Kevin Fortune of RC Lens or Dijon’s Lois Diony. The squad is expected to be headlined by former Real Madrid winger Julien Faubert who’s now plying his trade in Finnish football, while some US-based readers may be familiar with Kevin Parsemain, formerly of Seattle Sounders and a prolific scorer for his country. A serious injury hampered his development stateside but he could still prove a success if given a second opportunity in MLS. Two friendlies are lined up for later this month – Barbados on the 26th and Guyana on the 28th – which should aid preparations ahead of the Caribbean Cup in June and of course the Gold Cup in July. Taking points against the hosts and Panama will be very tough, though they are more than capable of getting a win over one of Haiti or Nicaragua.
I’m going to save any analysis on Haiti until their Gold Cup spot is assured. They should get past Nicaragua, one of the lesser ranked sides within Central America, despite having to play the second leg away from home. The first leg is on the 24th in Port-au-Prince later this month, while the return leg is on the 28th in Managua.
GROUP C – Mexico, El Salvador, Curacao, Jamaica.
09/07: Curacao vs Jamaica, Mexico vs El Salvador. Venue: Qualcomm Stadium.
13/07: El Salvador vs Curacao, Mexico vs Jamaica. Venue: Sports Authority Field.
16/03: Jamaica vs El Salvador, Curacao vs Mexico. Venue: Alamodome.
This will be Curacao‘s first Gold Cup appearance, since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010 anyway. They have been given a fairly reasonable draw in the grand scheme of things with advancement to the knockouts via third place very much a conceivable thought. Some Curacao supporters have already pointed to the schedule, stressing the significance of the team’s first match against Jamaica and using that as a platform to build on. Not having to face Mexico until last is a positive as they can aim to maximise points in their first two matches, because picking up anything versus the Mexicans is going to be a big ask. Curacao last played El Salvador in their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, losing 1-0 home and away in the third round. That was when Patrick Kluivert, now director of football at PSG, was still in charge. He left in June last year, shortly after guiding the team to the final round of Gold Cup qualifying, but he made a great impact in terms of professionalism and player recruitment. Remko Bicentini has taken over the reigns seamlessly and oversaw victories against Antigua & Barbuda (3-0) and Puerto Rico (4-2) to seal the country’s place at this summer’s event. They were very much the team to watch throughout qualifying: 21 goals scored across six outings, over half of those goals coming in the second round in comprehensive wins over Guyana (5-2) and the US Virgin Islands (7-0). Players from the Dutch diaspora have really contributed to the team’s success so far and the Gold Cup squad is expected to be competitive, with Southampton defender Cuco Martina, the captain when fit, and Aston Villa’s Leandro Bacuna standout names. I believe they will make the Caribbean Cup final this year, although coverage of that competition is set to come in a couple of months so stay tuned for that.
The defending Caribbean champions, Jamaica, are probably pretty happy with this draw as it gives them a perfectly legitimate chance of finishing in the top two and subsequently reaching the last eight and possibly beyond. They will be targeting a minimum of four points from their opening two games, of that I’m sure, which would put them in a terrific position to advance. Their memorable run to the 2015 final, beating the United States for only the second time in their history along the way, was a super achievement. Winfried Schafer was at the helm then, but the management side of things has changed since with the appointment of Theodore Whitmore in September 2016. He’s opted for locally-based and US-based players in his squad selections in the games that he’s taken charge of so far, however, it will be interesting to see the make-up of the Gold Cup squad. Will Whitmore continue to favour those who play locally and stateside or will the European-based players such as Adrian Mariappa, Wes Morgan, Michael Hector, Garath McCleary, Jobi McAnuff and Clayton Donaldson return to the fold? I think if Jamaica want to take this tournament seriously and genuinely shoot for a place in the semi-finals, then those European-based players have to feature, as well as the best local/US-based players. This summer presents the Reggae Boyz with a great opportunity to reshuffle the squad by giving some younger players a go, as well, with an eye on Qatar 2022 qualification.
The quarter-finals will be played on 19/07 at Lincoln Financial Field and 20/07 at University of Phoenix Stadium. The semi-finals, meanwhile, will be played 22/07 at AT&T Stadium and 23/07 at Rose Bowl. The final will be contested 26/07 at Levi’s® Stadium, home of NFL team the San Francisco 49ers.
By Nathan Carr
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. There will be more Gold Cup coverage published as the tournament draws closer. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.