The 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup gets underway on Friday, July 7th with two Group A games at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. The following day, Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN is the venue for the opening matches of the four teams from Group B. It includes the USMNT who clearly head into the tournament both as favorites to win the group as well as to contest the final on July 26th.
But three other teams are vying for a spot in the quarterfinals at the conclusion of the group stage. Some have better odds than others to make the final eight, but tournaments like these can always spring a surprise or two. With that in mind, it’s time to introduce the four sides from Group B.
2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group B Preview
This is far from a World Cup qualifying level squad that Bruce Arena is bringing to the Gold Cup. Nevertheless, anything other than first place in Group B for the Stars and Stripes will be looked at as a disappointment. This is especially true considering the Yanks current run of form. They remain undefeated since Arena took over. It included a 2-1 victory over Ghana last Saturday in the team’s final tune-up before the tournament.
The biggest test of the group stage will come in their opening game against Panama. Los Canaleros forced a 1-1 draw with the US in a World Cup qualifier on March 28th. After that, it’s likely smooth sailing against two relative minnows in Martinique and Nicaragua. Assuming they finish first in Group B, a third place team from one of the other groups awaits in the quarterfinals.
With Costa Rica the likely winner in Group A, it’s possible the US will face a matchup with the Ticos in the semis. A win there likely sets up a showdown with archrival Mexico in the final. Though there’s no Confederations Cup berth on the line this year, the Red, White and Blue can win its sixth Gold Cup while reestablishing themselves as kings of the region. That should be motivation enough to perform.
Player to watch: Dom Dwyer – The Sporting KC man and newly minted US citizen earned his first cap against Ghana and made the most of it. He became the 48th USMNT player to score on his debut when he found the net in the 19th minute. That certainly bodes well for his chances of seeing consistent minutes in this tournament. His ability to find space in the box and combine with his teammates in the final third will be a welcome addition.
Squad (club in parentheses):
Goalkeepers – Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC, USA), Bill Hamid (DC United, USA), Sean Johnson (New York City FC, USA)
Defenders – Matt Besler (Sporting KC, USA), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, MEX), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, MEX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas, USA), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, ENG), Matt Miazga (Vitesse Arnhem, NED), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC, CAN), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC, USA)
Midfielders – Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas, USA), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, MEX), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union, USA), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, MEX), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire, USA), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders, USA), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kenny Saief (Gent, BEL), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy, USA)
Forwards – Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution, USA), Dominic Dwyer (Sporting KC, USA), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders, USA)
Throughout the history of this tournament, no nation has had a tendency to punch above their weight than Panama. Los Canaleros have two runner-up finishes to their credit in 2005 and 2013. That ’05 team pulled off a massive 3-2 upset of Colombia in the semifinals before falling to the US via penalty shootout in the championship game. They also encountered the Yanks four years ago with a Brek Shea goal proving the difference in the 1-0 US win.
This year’s edition of the Panamanian team faces the US in the first game of the tournament rather than the last. And similar to their opponents in that match, Panama will be expected to get the full three points in their next two group games. Assuming they finish second and Costa Rica wins Group A, those two will meet in the quarterfinals. If Panama want to make the Gold Cup final four, it will likely require a win against their high-powered Central American rival.
Player to watch: Gabriel Gomez – The 33-year-old midfielder who had a brief stint in MLS with the Philadelphia Union in 2012 is clearly in the twilight of both his club and international career. But he’s proven in recent games for his country that he still has something to contribute. Gomez scored the equalizing goal for Panama against the US in the recent World Cup qualifier between the two teams.
Squad (club in parentheses):
Goalkeepers – José Calderón (Real Cartagena, COL), Orlando Mosquera (Tauro, PAN), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco, PAN),
Defenders – Roberto Chen (Árabe Unido, PAN), Erick Davis (Dunajska Streda, SVK), Fidel Escobar (Sporting Lisbon, POR), Roderick Miller (Atletico Nacional, COL), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls, USA), Luís Ovalle (Zamora, VEN), Ángel Patrick (Tapachula, MEX), Jean Carlos Vargas (Tauro, PAN)
Midfielders – Edgar Barcenas (Tapachula, MEX), Miguel Camargo (New York City FC, USA), Armando Cooper (Toronto FC, CAN), Gabriel Gomez (Atletico Bucaramanga, COL), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes, USA), Leslie Heráldez (Árabe Unido, PAN), Josiel Núñez (Plaza Amador, PAN), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador, PAN)
Forwards – Abdiel Arroyo (Danubio, URU), Ricardo Clarke (Zamora, VEN), Ismael Díaz (Porto B, POR)
Nicaragua is making its second ever appearance at the Gold Cup, having last qualified in 2009. They beat Haiti 4-3 on aggregate in a playoff between the fifth placed teams from the 2017 Copa Centroamericano and 2017 Caribbean Cup to make it here. That came as a surprise considering how well Haiti played at the previous Gold Cup, making it to the quarterfinals.
Not much is expected from Los Pinoleros Albiazules at this tournament. Of the 23 players who received call-ups to the national team, only five play their club soccer outside of Nicaragua. Eight play for Real Estelí, one of the country’s more successful teams in recent years. The club has qualified for the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League in four of the previous five years.
The result of the opening match between Nicaragua and Martinique will likely determine third place in the group.
Player to watch: Juan Barrera – Nicaragua’s captain is among the more distinguished players on this squad. In 2015, he made a move to Austrian first division club SC Rheindorf Altach. In so doing, he became the first Nicaraguan to play professionally in Europe. The 29-year-old is the second-most capped player on the team and has ten international goals to his name.
Squad (club in parentheses):
Goalkeepers – Justo Lorenta (UNAN Managua, NCA), Henry Maradiaga (Real Estelí, NCA), Diedrich Téllez (Juventus Managua, NCA)
Defenders – Luis Copete (Comerciantes Unidos, PER), Cyril Errington (Real Estelí, NCA), Oscar López (Managua F.C., NCA), Henry Niño (Jacó Rays, CRC), Josue Quijano (Real Estelí, NCA), Manuel Rosas (Real Estelí, NCA), Erick Téllez (Diriangén, NCA), Bismarck Véliz (Chinandega FC, NCA)
Midfielders – Daniel Cadena (UMF Njarovikur, ISL), Elvis Figueroa (Real Estelí, NCA), Luis Galeano (Real Estelí, NCA), Bryan Garcia (Real Estelí, NCA), Marlon Lopez (Real Estelí, NCA), Maykel Montiel (UNAN Managua, NCA), Bismarck Montiel (Managua FC, NCA), Luis Peralta (Walter Ferreti, NCA)
Forwards – Juan Barrera (Comunicaciones, GUA), Carlos Chavarría (Real Estelí, NCA), Jorge Hurtado (Walter Ferreti, NCA), Eulises Pavón (Suchitepéquez, GUA)
The island of Martinique is in a unique position from a soccer standpoint. Due to the fact it is an overseas department of France, they’re not currently a member of FIFA and so aren’t eligible to qualify for the World Cup. But they’re part of CONCACAF and will be making their fifth appearance in the Gold Cup and first since 2013. That tournament carries special significance for the Martiniquais after their famous 1-0 upset of Canada at the Rose Bowl.
Much like Nicaragua, Les Matinino come into the tournament as rank underdogs. The two sides are also similar in that a multitude of players on the 23-man roster play domestically. Martinique’s best chance to channel the spirit of their 2013 win over the Canadians comes in the group finale when they face Panama in Cleveland.
Player to watch: Steeven Langil – Just one of four Martiniquais players plying their trade in Europe, Langil is arguably the most decorated player on the team. He spent seven years at French club Auxerre, playing both in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. During the 2015-16 season, he scored six goals in 35 appearances for Belgian first division side Waasland-Beveren. The 29-year-old also played internationally for France’s U-21 team earlier in his career.
Squad (club in parentheses):
Goalkeepers – Loïc Chauvet (CS Case-Pilote, MTQ), Kevin Olimpa (Platanias FC, GRE), Emmanuel Vermignon (Club Colonial, MTQ)
Defenders – Sébastien Cretinoir (Golden Lion, MTQ), Jordy Delem (Seattle Sounders, USA), Gerald Dondon (Club Colonial, MTQ), Antoine Jean-Baptiste (FC Villefranche, FRA), Florian Narcissot (Club Franciscain, MTQ), Karl Vitulin (Samaritaine, MTQ), Nicolas Zaire (Club Franciscain, MTQ)
Midfielders – Stephane Abaul (Club Franciscain, MTQ), Daniel Herelle (Golden Lion, MTQ), Christof Jougon (Club Franciscain, MTQ), Djenhael Mainge (Club Franciscain, MTQ), Jean-Manuel Nedra (Aiglon, MTQ), Yann Thimon (Golden Lion, MTQ)
Forwards – Anthony Angély (Poitiers FC, FRA), Yoann Arquin (Mansfield Town, ENG), Johan Audel (Beitar Jerusalem, ISR), Steeven Langil (Waasland-Beveren, BEL), Johnny Marajo (Club Franciscain, MTQ), Kevin Parsemain (Golden Lion, MTQ), Grégory Pastel (Riviere-Pilote, MTQ)
Group B Schedule
Saturday, July 8th: Nissan Stadium – Nashville, TN
United States vs Panama, 4:30 PM ET
Martinique vs Nicaragua, 7 PM ET
Wednesday, July 12th: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, FL
Panama vs Nicaragua, 6:30 PM ET
United States vs Martinique, 9 PM ET
Saturday, July 15th: FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland, OH
Panama vs Martinique, 4:30 PM ET
United States vs Nicaragua, 7 PM ET