It wouldn’t take a genius to predict that either the United States or Mexico will win the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The odds makers have given both teams an equal chance of winning the tournament. This is the 11th Gold Cup and only once has a team other than the US or Mexico won the title (Canada, 2000).
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Still, despite the dominance of the continent’s two super powers, a few dark horses could emerge as surprise finalists. At the very least, the two other semifinalists (assuming the US and Mexico advance that far) could provide the most unexpected story lines of the tournament.
Jamaica feels it has put together its best squad since the one that went to the 1998 World Cup, but the Reggae Boyz suffered a blow last week in learning that Omar Cummings will not join the team for the Gold Cup, and Tyrone Marshall’s status is still unclear. Jamaica has a major hole to fill in the absence of Cummings, who has shown how dangerous his speed can be with the Colorado Rapids. Cummings scored 14 goals and added seven assists in 2010 with the Rapids en route to an MLS Cup championship.
Even in the absence of Cummings and (potentially) Marshall, Jamaica still boasts seven MLS players, headlined by the imposing Donovan Ricketts (Los Angeles Galaxy) in net and forwards Dane Richards (New York Red Bulls) and Ryan Johnson (San Jose Earthquakes). Ricketts is athletic enough to make up for most defensive lapses in the back and, combined with Johnson, the speed of Richards up top should wreak havoc on the likes of Grenada, Guatemala and Honduras in the group stage.
Jamaica’s success or failure in this tournament could speak to the quality of the middle of the road MLS player. A strong tournament for Houston Dynamo players Jevaughn Watson and Jermaine Taylor – not exactly household names – will not only reflect positively on MLS but would serve as a coming out party for those players.
Anything short of a semifinal appearance would surely disappoint a team with high expectations, but Jamaica is not alone as a dark horse that could make a surprise trip to the Gold Cup final with the right draw.
Canada, of course, has to be in that discussion. Can Dwayne De Rosario and company win a second Gold Cup in 11 years? Julian de Guzman and Will Johnson will be key to making that happen, but Canada cannot overlook a group stage that includes a huge opening match on Tuesday against the United States and includes matches against Panama and Guadeloupe.
Panama brought the United States to extra time in the 2009 Gold Cup, and Guadeloupe has found recent success on the continental level, making it to the Gold Cup quarterfinals in 2009 and a shocking run to the semifinals in 2007, the same year that Canada controversially lost 2-1 to the US in the semifinals. Canada surely has not forgotten that 2-1 defeat to Guadeloupe in the 2007 group stage, either.
Honduras, a team that held its own in the 2010 World Cup but still finished last in Group H, will be looking for a return trip to the semifinals following a third place finish in 2009. Has this team improved enough to make a run to the final?
Wilson Palacios heads a squad featuring six other European-based players. Look for Jamaica and Honduras to advance out of Group B, with the winner of that June 13 match-up between the two teams having the upper hand entering the knockout stage.
Not to be forgotten fellow 2009 semifinalist Costa Rica, which opened the tournament on Sunday with a 5-0 drubbing of Cuba. Real Salt Lake’s Álvaro Saborío, who scored the second goal of the match on Sunday, will be key to Los Ticos’ run this time around.
More will be known about the quality of Costa Rica following the June 12 match with Mexico. Meanwhile, Jamaica and Honduras face the easiest route out of the group stage, but with both teams expecting semifinal runs at minimum, a potential quarterfinal date with Mexico or Canada could squash dreams for both teams.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer and proprietor of Equalizer Soccer who will be contributing to FOX Soccer’s coverage of the Gold and Women’s World Cups.