The 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup is being billed as the USA and Mexico show, but this year’s tournament could be the strongest in quite some time as Costa Rica, Honduras, Canada and Jamaica all boast very formidable teams.
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As deep as this year’s tournament is, the traditional powers should rule yet again. Mexico will feature the best attack in the tournament, while the United States will bring good balance and experience to the field.
Both teams should reach the final, but not before what could be one of the most entertaining Gold Cups in recent memory.
Here is a closer look at the tournament, and how I see it playing out:
Team to Beat- Mexico. The defending champions are in a relatively easy group, though Costa Rica could pose a threat.
Players to Watch– Javier Hernandez (Mexico), Giovani Dos Santos (Mexico), Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica), Celsco Borges (Costa Rica)
Match of the Group- Mexico vs. Costa Rica, June 12th, Soldier Field, Chicago.
Outlook- Led by former Mexico head coach Ricardo LaVolpe, Costa Rica boasts a good balance of talent and one of the best players in the region in Bryan Ruiz. El Salvador might be able to provide a tough challenge, but is very unlikely to knock off either Mexico or Costa Rica. Cuba is destined to finish in last place.
Team to Beat- Honduras. Despite the retirement of key veteran leaders like Amado Guevara and Carlos Pavon, Honduras still boasts a strong nucleus of European-based talent that
Players to Watch- Wilson Palacios (Honduras), Maynor Figueroa (Honduras), Omar Cummings (Jamaica), Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala)
Match of the Group- Honduras vs. Jamaica, June 13th, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
Outlook- Honduras is the clear favorite to win this group, but Jamaica has the attacking weapons to make things interesting, along with a better defense than the ‘Reggae Boyz’ usually have. Guatemala is a tough third team in the group, but third place seems likely.
Team to Beat- United States. The Americans come in as the heavy favorite to win the group, but that opening match against Canada could be a tricky one as the Canadians are a dangerous team.
Players to Watch- Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Simeon Jackson (Canada), Blas Perez (Panama), Franck Grendel (Guadeloupe).
Match of the Group- USA vs. Canada, June 7th, Ford Field, Detroit.
Outlook- The group is arguably the toughest in the tournament, with no real pushover in the group. USA and Canada are the favorites, but Panama has a good nucleus and a team that has been eliminated by the United States in the past three Gold Cups. Guadeloupe is a team to watch because goalkeeper Franck Grendel showed in 2007 that he can carry a team.
Group A- Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba
Group B- Honduras, Jamaica, Guatemala, Grenada
Group C- USA, Canada, Guadeloupe, Panama
Costa Rica over Jamaica
Mexico over Guadeloupe
Canada over Honduras
USA over Guatemala
The only upset in the group is Canada over Honduras, though it wouldn’t shock me if Jamaica knocked off Costa Rica.
Mexico over Costa Rica
USA over Canada
Ricardo LaVolpe faces Mexico a second time, and still can’t beat his former team. The United States in Canada in a semifinal four years after the infamous semifinal in Chicago where Canada had a would-be equalizer waved off for an offside call? Talk about some great drama.
USA over Mexico
The Mexicans have Chicharito and a dangerous attack, but the United States will combine strong defense with the attacking contributions of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey to recapture the Gold Cup trophy.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.