On Saturday, the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup enters the quarterfinals stage. Four of the dozen entrants into this year’s edition were culled from the pack in the group stage. On Saturday, Panama faces Cuba (live, FOX Soccer, 3:30 p.m. ET) and Mexico goes up against Trinidad & Tobago (live, FOX Soccer, 6:30 p.m. ET) in back-to-back games in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. On Sunday in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, the United States takes on El Salvador (live, FOX, 4 p.m. ET) after which Honduras throws down with Costa Rica at (live, FOX Soccer, 7:00 p.m ET). Here’s a primer for each contest: --Leander Schaerlaeckens
Panama vs. Cuba (live, FOX Soccer, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Panama started off its tournament in impressive fashion, piling on Mexico’s misery by winning their opener 2-1. After a tepid 1-0 win over Martinique, the Canaleros were through and settled for a bland 0-0 tie with Canada. This Panamanian outfit, managed by the charismatic Julio Dely Valdes isn’t often accused of playing pretty soccer, but it has a real knack for getting results where needed. That’s often courtesy of their deep corps of strikers, consisting of Blas Perez (pictured), Cecilio Waterman, Rolando Blackman and Gabriel Torres, who has scored all three of their goals so far this tournament. Cuba is a Cinderella story of sorts. After dropping their first two games to Costa Rica and the United States 3-0 and 4-1, despite having been equal to their opponents in the first halves before running out of steam in the second act, they needed to beat Belize 4-0 in their last game to knock Martinique out of the second spot among third-placed teams. That would win them the final berth to the knockout stage. Cuba did, courtesy of an Ariel Martinez hat trick, the last goal of which came in the 84th minute, and Yenier Marquez’s 93rd minute clincher. Led by Martinez, a dynamic winger, and captain Jorge Luis Clavelo, the rock in central defense, this Cuban side is capable.
Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago (live, FOX Soccer, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
An already wretched year only got worse for Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre's (pictured) Mexico when they dropped their first Gold Cup game to Panama 2-1. They’ve since redeemed themselves somewhat, with a fraught 2-0 win over Canada followed by a more comfortable 3-1 victory of Martinique. They seem, at last to have hit a vein of decent form as golden boy playmaker Marco Fabian continues to impress. He’s scored in every El Tri game so far this tournament. But what happens when he has an off-day? Mexico’s opponents Trininad & Tobago are about as far from Mexico as you could be, stylistically speaking. Where their opponents will be all quick, short passes over the ground, the Soca Warriors will pummel high balls into the box at brawny star striker Kenwyne Jones. They’ve had some success with it, going 1-1-1 in the group stage. But it’s unlikely to hold up against an opponent of Mexico’s caliber.
United States vs. El Salvador (live, FOX, Sunday, 4 p.m. ET)
Heading into the quarterfinals, the United States is not only on a record eight-game winning streak but, by virtue of that feat, also the only team in the tournament that still boasts a perfect record. Performance, however, has been a mixed bag. The Americans were very good in a 6-1 win over Belize but gradually regressed against Cuba (4-1) and Costa Rica (1-0). Certainly, the pressure also dwindled as those games wore on. And those results might be slightly more disconcerting if the Americans weren’t about to get a serious infusion of talent, with forwards Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon and central defenders Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez being swapped in for Herculez Gomez, Jack McInerney, Corey Ashe and Oguchi Onyewu. That being the case, Jurgen Klinsmann's (pictured) side are well equipped for their next bout. Frankly, the Salvadorans rather snuck out of the group stage as the best third-placed finisher in all three groups. But their track record – a 2-2 draw with Trinidad & Tobago, a 1-0 loss to Honduras and a 1-0 win over Haiti – doesn’t inspire much confidence in their form or chances going forward. As usual, striker Rodolfo Zelaya has been the bright spot, scoring all three of his nation’s goals. But he gets awfully little help.
Honduras vs. Costa Rica (live, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 7 p.m. ET)
This is a battle between the best teams not called Mexico or the United States. But neither has left much of a mark on the tournament thus far, even though both teams boast the players to deliver some excitement. Honduras beat Haiti 2-0 and El Salvador 1-0 before letting up against Trinidad & Tobago in a 2-0 loss. Still, if Marvin Chavez (pictured), Mario Martinez and Andy Najar get angry and start making cutting runs, the Catrachos will be a menace. Costa Rica, meanwhile, have badly underdelivered this tournament. With quality players like Michael Umana, Michael Barrantes and Alvaro Saborio in every line, the Ticos should have done better than a labored 3-0 win over Cuba, a fetid 1-0 squeaker over Belize – courtesy of an own goal and a very late save – and the loss to the Americans. Still, they’re through to the knockout round, and they have the ability to do some damage there.