On July 7th, the 12th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup will kick off in one of the historic venues in the United States: The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. You can be sure that most of the 92,000 seat stadium will be filled with fans supporting their native Mexico. Here’s what this scene could look like:
While the house will surely be rocking in Pasadena, how things came to be in the Gold Cup Finals are a bit of an uncertainty. CONCACAF announced in advance of the “draw” that Mexico would be playing in the opening game in Pasadena. Alas, when the final “draw” took place, the USA was on the other side of the bracket, so they could not meet Mexico until the championship game.
While CONCACAF regulations state that “The Gold Cup Committee shall divide the 12 teams of the Final Phase into 3 groups of four teams each, or such groups as they consider necessary for the efficient conduct of the competition and set the schedule thereof”, all this really tells me is “How can we make the most money and keep USA and Mexico apart until the finals.” I have no beef with CONCACAF, and I understand wanting to do this, but maybe it’s time to do something a little different to ensure that the groups are fair. But that’s neither here nor there, and the show will go on in packed stadiums across the United States.
History and Format
As we mentioned previously, this will be the 12th edition of the Gold Cup. 2 editions have been jointly held between Mexico and the United States while the other 10 have been exclusively in the USA. While only North American sides have claimed the title in past years, there have been some guest appearances from outside confederations but none since 2005. The last 3 Gold Cups have seen USA square off with Mexico in the finals, and this year the possibility for another rematch is strong.
There is a major change in CONCACAF which will make the 2013 edition of the Gold Cup much more exciting. Previously, the winner of the Gold Cup 2 years prior to the Confederations Cup won the confederation’s qualifying spot. So, since Mexico won the 2011 Gold Cup, they qualified for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. Had the format stayed the same, the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup would have qualified directly for the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. Now, the winner of this year’s 2013 Gold Cup will meet the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup in a head-to-head match to determine who gets the region’s spot in the Confederations Cup. If the same team wins both, that team will automatically qualify.
This is a major change, and a major upgrade from prior years. CONCACAF wised up and realized that every other Gold Cup would lack in quality in comparison to the qualifying tournament. This means that despite this year’s Confederations Cup just concluding, teams already have the opportunity to get into the next one. If we’re being technical, qualifying for the 2017 Confederations Cup started all the way back in September 2012’s Caribbean Cup, almost 5 years in advance! This should make for a great 2013 tournament.
How They Got Here
The North American sides did not have to go through the qualifying process. USA, Mexico and Canada were always in the finals, leaving only 9 spots for the rest of CONCACAF to claim. 4 of these spots were available to the region’s 25 Caribbean teams through the 2012 Caribbean Cup while the other 5 spots were available to the region’s 7 Central American teams through the 2013 Copa Centroamericana. Write your local CONCACAF official if you think this process is unfair.
The Central American teams played a group stage of sorts. Honduras, El Salvador and Panama all played to draws, while Costa Rica and Belize took care of business in their respective group. Panama defeated Guatemala in the 5th place match to also qualify for the Gold Cup. Central American whipping boys Nicaragua and perennial underachievers Guatemala were the only nations from Central America not to qualify. After a stint in Belize this spring, WGF was told by locals that they were ecstatic to have the opportunity to participate in the Gold Cup.
The Caribbean Cup was far more competitive. There were 3 stages which brought 25 teams together to decide the 3 finalists. Many of the Caribbean minnows were knocked out early. The most lopsided fixture saw Martinique destroy the British Virgin Islands by 16-0. Even Montserrat put their hand into the cookie jar and came out clean, defeating BVI 7-0. The second round featured a few surprises as hosts Guadeloupe and Grenada were unable to progress to the final round.
Nothing was more surprising than the final round of Caribbean qualification. Given a pass to the final round, hosts Antigua and perennial stalwarts Jamaica had a massive advantage. It didn’t matter. Neither were able to overcome the momentum of the squads from the previous rounds. Haiti breezed through qualification with a record of 7-1-1. Trinidad was 6-1-2. Martinique didn’t lose with a record of 5-0-4. And Cuba continually did enough to get through. But what happened to Jamaica? They came away from the final round of competition with a single point in their group from only a draw with Martinique. Jamaica lost to Cuba and French Guiana and were out. A stunning result.
|Group A||Group B||Group C|
|Canada||Trinidad and Tobago||Cuba|
Now that we’ve provided some extensive background on how the teams got here, let’s take a look at what we project to happen within each of the groups:
This is Mexico’s group to lose, however they may decide to rest some of their top players given the extensive schedule they’ve played over the last month. From friendlies to World Cup Qualifiers to the Confederations Cup, Mexico has not had a rest. This is definitely the toughest group as Panama is no slouch and Canada and Martinique are equally difficult opponents. The plan to keep Mexico away from the USA only works if each team finishes first, and that should hold here. Expect the Mexicans to finish first and Panama right behind them. But this group is certainly wide open.
The “weakest” of the 3 groups, this moniker is well deserved. Not only are USA and Mexico not in this group, there is only 1 team still alive in World Cup qualifying in this group (Honduras) and they are near the bottom of the Hexagonal. Despite the tag of weakest group, this is going to be the most competitive group. We give Honduras a 54% chance to win the group, but that is a very low number. It is virtually a dead heat for 2nd place in this group, so any team can emerge and advance. Don’t sleep on dark horse Haiti here. Despite having to play in all 3 rounds of qualifying, they’ve proven to be a very strong side. We give El Salvador the lowest chance in this group, but still view them with over a 30% chance of advancing in the tournament. This should make for some exciting football.
We view this group as the most lopsided. Not only does our predictor like the USA, the home field advantage is a huge bonus. In every one of our 1000 simulations, the USA finished first, which even shocked us. Additionally, Costa Rica finished 2nd in over 87% of the projections. Unfortunately for Belize and Cuba, we don’t think they have much of a chance of finishing in the top 2. That doesn’t mean they’re out however! Their head-to-head matchup could easily produce a team to advance into the quarterfinals. This group looks like the USA’s to lose. Expect a strong showing and a dominant effort.
When all is said and done, our predictor and our hearts tell us this will come down to a USA-Mexico final for a fourth consecutive Gold Cup. We think this is the USA’s time to shine. With a worn down Mexico team and a USA squad that is looking to prove themselves heading into Brazil 2014, the USA has to be the favorites to take the tournament title. The 2011 final has to be an open wound for the United States. After going up 2-0 in the first half and surrendering the lead to draw level at 2-2 before half, Mexico came out firing in the 2nd half and won 4-2, earning a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup. You simply can’t blow a lead like that on your home field. The ship will be righted this year, and we expect the USA to take the Gold Cup crown.
We hope you enjoyed our Gold Cup preview. We’ll be live in person for the El Salvador – Trinidad and Tobago match as well as the Honduras – Haiti match in Harrison, New Jersey. Come say hello. We also may host another event at The Football Factory at Legends at some point during the Gold Cup with our promotion of pick the score right and win a free beer. Follow us on Twitter @We_Global for the latest details. We’ll be sure to keep you up to date. Thanks for reading!