Most of the buildup to this tournament focused on Dempsey’s Open Cup indiscretions and his subsequent exit as U.S. captain for this tournament. He must cast those issues aside now and focus on producing consistently as this tournament progresses. As U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann reinforced prior to the 4-0 victory over Guatemala, the Americans need his goals in order to retain the title.
Getty ImagesVictor Decolongon
Honduras defender Maynor Figueroa
Veteran centerback Victor Bernardez resisted calls to resume his international career in time for this tournament. The burden now falls on the vastly experienced Figueroa to provide some necessary nous at the heart of Jorge Luis Pinto’s trademark 5-4-1. The lack of reliable firepower up front heaps pressure on that Honduran defense to set a firm line in order to lay the foundation for a deep run.
AFP/Getty ImagesLUIS ACOSTA
Haiti midfielder Soni Mustivar
Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes tempted Mustivar to end a successful spell in Romania to return to North America earlier this year. The decision worked out for both club and player: Mustivar now patrols the center of the park with a purpose. Haiti desperately needs his calm, holding work to cover up some of the inevitable tactical issues sure to bubble to the surface.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY SportsPeter Aiken
Panama forward Blas Perez
This is perhaps the last, best chance for Panama to win the title. Perez once again serves as the key protagonist for those ambitions. He isn’t the quickest. He isn’t the most precise. But he battles willingly for every ball and infuriates defenders for 90 minutes. Those qualities are inherently useful given the demands in this tournament.
AFP/Getty ImagesRODRIGO ARANGUA
Costa Rica midfielder Celso Borges
Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Alvaro Saborio command most of the attention for their work up front, but Borges functions as the heart of the team in central midfield. The Deportivo La Coruna fulcrum partners with Jose Miguel Cubero to form an effective base of operations. They must continue their earnest toil to ensure the solidity instilled by departed coach Jorge Luis Pinto remains firmly in place.
AFP/Getty ImagesJUNG YEON-JE
Jamaica defender Adrian Mariappa
Reggae Boyz coach Winfred Schaefer address some of the lingering structural issues within the ranks when he took charge a couple of years ago. Mariappa functions as the bedrock in those efforts. The stalwart Reading defender must shine to allow overlapping fullbacks Kemar Lawrence and Alvas Powell to push into the attack intelligently.
AFP/Getty ImagesJUAN BARRETO
Canada forward Cyle Larin
Hope is at its highest ebb in quite some time north of the border. Canada boss Benito Floro turned to younger players once he took control and nurtured them accordingly. Floro is still short of quality across the board, but he at least boasts a promising striker in Orlando City forward Larin. The former UConn star must produce in his first big tournament in order to fire Canada through to the last eight.
El Salvador midfielder Arturo Alvarez
The former San Jose and FC Dallas winger now plies his trade in Hungary after flattering to deceive in MLS. Alvarez retains most of the invention that once earned him a spot in the U.S. youth national team setup. He must produce it consistently in order to somehow devise a way through this challenging group.
Getty ImagesSarah Glenn
Mexico forward Giovani dos Santos
The absence of Javier Hernandez means the goalscoring load will disperse through El Tri’s deep cadre of attackers. Carlos Vela will inevitably play his part in the proceedings, but dos Santos must lift his game as well. He remains a rather enigmatic figure for both club and country, but he can produce at the highest levels. If all proceeds according to plan, then this tournament offers him the perfect platform to prepare for a mooted move to LA Galaxy later this summer.
Getty ImagesAlex Menendez
Trinidad and Tobago forward Kenwyne Jones
Long gone are the magical days of 2006 when Trinidad and Tobago somehow managed to secure a berth in the World Cup. The talent base is depreciated, but the Trinis at least retain a willing target man in Jones. His robust work up front perpetually troubles opposing defense. If he receives the proper service, then T&T could secure a berth in the last eight.
Guatemala midfielder Marco Pappa
Creativity is the primary issue for a Guatemala side likely to sit back and soak up plenty of pressure. Pappa shoulders most of the load after establishing himself at Seattle Sounders after a frustrating spell in the Netherlands. He drifts in and out of games when tasked with the primary burden, but Guatemala needs something special from him to pull out of the recent funk.
AFP/Getty ImagesJOHAN ORDONEZ
Cuba defender Jorge Luis Clavelo
Experience is a precious commodity for this entirely domestic-based team. Alain Cervantes and Yenier Marquez boast more caps, but Clavelo closes the game given his uncomfortable perch in central defense. His positioning and his physical nature make up for his missing yard of pace more often than not. If Cuba plans to somehow reach the last eight and make up for the World Cup qualifying exit to Curacao, then Clavelo must shine in the heart of the back four.