The CONCACAF Gold Cup is just a few days away and FOX Soccer previews each of the three groups. We begin by taking a look at Group A, which features the most successful side in Gold Cup history, reigning champion Mexico. Will Mexico reign triumphant in the group? Or will the underdog in the tournament, Martinique, pull a major upset? Find out.
Panama have reached the knockout stage in each of the past five Gold Cups, making the final in 2005 (where they lost to the United States on penalties). As such, they will be co-favorites in Group A with Mexico, whom they tied 0-0 recently in a World Cup qualifier. Anything is possible for this experienced group, highlighted by the nation’s all-time leading scorer Luis Tejada and longtime captain Felipe Baloy.
Key player to watch: Luis Tejada
This isn’t Tejada’s first rodeo, but it might very well be his last. Tejada led Panama all the way to the 2005 Gold Cup final, scoring three goals to end up as joint top scorer. Though he missed his penalty kick in the loss to the USA, “The Matador” was also named "Most Valuable Player" of the tournament for his efforts. Tejada, now Panama’s all-time leading scorer, will partner up with FC Dallas striker Blas Perez to form a dangerous and experienced partnership up front. Perez leads CONCACAF in goals during World Cup qualifying with ten.
Trivia question: Who is the only other nation to have won the Gold Cup besides Mexico and the United States? Okay, you can probably guess since we’re on this slide, but yes, it’s Canada! USA's neighbors to the north made the impossible possible in 2000, beating Mexico and Colombia along the way. Two more semifinal appearances in 2002 and 2007 show that the Canadians are more than capable to make a run. But can they produce the same results this time around? Despite missing Dwayne de Rosario, Julian de Guzman leads a much-deeper squad than ever before. If second place is out of reach, expect the Canucks to make the quarterfinals as one of the best third place teams.
Key player to watch: Julian de Guzman
Interim head coach Colin Miller raised more than a few eyebrows by passing on DC United’s Dwayne de Rosario, but at least he picked de Guzman. The 2007 Gold Cup MVP has helped Canada to two third-place finishes at the Gold Cup and brings a wealth of experience to the squad. Though currently unattached, he has plenty of big league experience in Europe, with spells in the Bundesliga and La Liga, where he was voted Deportivo La Coruna’s best player once upon a time. Look for his leadership to drive the Canucks forward all tournament long, and don’t be surprised if he lands on his third Gold Cup all-star team.
You can be excused for not having heard of this tiny Caribbean island nation before. Martinique, an overseas province of France, is not a member of FIFA and therefore ineligible to participate in World Cup qualifying. As such, the Gold Cup has been Martinique’s best chance at international football glory, and its players no doubt will be fired up for their third ever Gold Cup appearance. Unmistakably the underdogs of the tournament, Martinique will try to beat the odds to make their second-ever appearance in the quarterfinals (they lost to Canada on penalties in 2002). Anything other than an exit in the group stage would be shocking, but it sure would make for a great story.
Key player to watch: Frederic Piquionne
On a roster full of unknowns, Piquionne stands out as a former Ligue 1 forward at Saint-Etienne, AS Monaco, and even powerhouse Olympique Lyon. After a stint at West Ham in the Barclay’s Premier League, Piquionne now plays for the Portland Timbers of MLS, where he is still searching for his first goal. Look for him to be the focal point of Martinique's attack. If the islanders are to make any noise, it will probably be because of him.
El Tri’s total of six Gold Cups are more than any other side (the United States have won four), and the two-time reigning champions will expect yet another final appearance. However, Mexico is hobbling into this year’s tournament, lagging behind in World Cup qualifying and coming off a weak showing at the Confederations Cup. The string of poor results have put coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre squarely on the hot seat, and that’s putting it lightly. Still, a weak group and a burning desire to right the ship should be enough for Mexico to make another run at the title, even with its B-squad. A premature exit would likely spell the end for de la Torre, if he isn’t already gone before then.
Key player to watch: Marco Fabian
Mexico’s troubles on offense are now well-documented. In 2013, Mexico have scored just nine goals and been part of five 0-0 draws in just 12 games, agonizing their own fans and neutrals alike. Now, without 2011 Gold Cup MVP Javier Hernandez and fellow key men Giovani dos Santos and Omar Bravo available, it will come down to several youngsters to change their scoring woes. In the spotlight: Marco Fabian. In 2012, the Chivas starlet helped Mexico to a gold medal at the Olympics as well as the Toulon tournament title, at which he was the leading goalscorer. Is there more hardware to come?