The group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup provided its fair share of surprises (Cuba in the quarters!) and revealed some of the stars of the tournament. Each of the remaining eight teams will lean on several players ahead of the quarterfinal ties this weekend, but one player in particular may carry more of a burden for his side as these matches unfold. Click through this slideshow to catch a glimpse of the players who could decide their team's fates heading into this weekend: --Kyle McCarthy
Blas Perez, F, Panama
Shape never presents much of a concern for the Panamanians. Julio Dely Valdes drills his side well in that department and the group – even without the services of Felipe Baloy – defended laudably during the group stages. Goals, however, can sometimes prove more elusive. Pérez deferred to in-form striker Gabriel Torres (scorer of all three Panamanian goals) during the group stage, but he may have to accept responsibility for leading the line to prevent Cuba from claiming a shock victory on Saturday.
Ariel Pedro Martinez, F, Cuba
Cinderella would not have made it to the quarterfinal dance without Martínez's hat trick against Belize on Tuesday night. He needs to conjure up a similar display in Atlanta to mitigate the potential defensive frailties in the side and spark his team to a rather unanticipated victory over Panama on Saturday.
Marco Fabián, W, Mexico
Fabián buckled under the weight of expectations and injuries over the past year, but he has returned to something near his best in this Gold Cup. The talented C.D. Guadalajara schemer propels the Mexican attack – such as it is at the moment – and supplements his creativity with some predatory work in the final third (three goals so far in the tournament). He must continue to set the tone for El Tri in order to dispatch Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday and foster the further improvement required to secure a third straight title.
Matt Besler, D, United States
There are plenty of players further up the field (including Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden and the recalled Eddie Johnson) worthy of this designation, but Besler earns the nod here after his belated arrival on the scene. USA coach Jürgen Klinsmann opted to call the Sporting Kansas City center back (and Omar Gonzalez, but he won't arrive until the semifinals) into his squad to strengthen a defense that has looked rickety at times. Besler must offer the necessary solidity when he steps on the field to ensure Donovan, Holden and Johnson possess the latitude to express themselves going forward against El Salvador on Sunday.
Kenwyne Jones, F, Trinidad & Tobago
Mexico displayed some vulnerability in defense during the group stage. Jones possesses the necessary mobility and strength to exacerbate those concers in Atlanta on Saturday. The Stoke City striker scored twice during the group stage – including the critical winner against Honduras to book a place in the quarterfinals – to fuel the Trinidad attack. More of the same could lay the foundation for a shocking victory on Saturday.
Rodolfo Zelaya, W/F, El Salvador
Zelaya signaled his availability to any interested club with a series of influential displays during the group stage. The tricky operator collected three goals in his three appearances and raised questions about why he has spent the past few years bouncing around on loan in the Mexican and Russian second divisions. Zelaya could seal a more desirable move elsewhere by continuing to produce against the Americans in front of a potentially favorable crowd in Baltimore on Sunday.
Alvaro Saborío, F, Costa Rica
As the stodgy approach to Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to the United States showed, the Ticos place significant emphasis on keeping things tight at the back. The absences of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz pile the pressure on Saborío – rested for a large portion of the match against the Americans – to lead the line and nick a goal or two when he receives the proper service. If Costa Rica plans to extend its stay in the tournament, then Saborío must offer a significant contribution during Sunday's quarterfinal against Honduras.
Mario Martinez, M, Honduras
The former Seattle midfielder offered a spirited defense of this weakened Honduras squad when Carlo Costly criticized the group in the wake of the 2-0 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago on Monday. He must now offer a riposte on the field in the wake of that setback. Honduras lacks a genuine goal threat with Costly and Jerry Bengtson omitted from the side, but Martínez can fill the void if he embarks upon an incisive run or two and sets the stage for Rony Martínez or Roger Rojas to convert in front of goal against Costa Rica on Sunday.