By Clemente Lisi – PHILADELPHIA, PA (Jul 1, 2019) US Soccer Players – The Gold Cup enters the semifinal stage with several key storylines. At a tournament that has seen plenty of upsets so far, we head to the final four. The teams left standing at this tournament, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica and the United States, says a lot about the current state of Concacaf. After the confederation instituted the Nations League to get smaller teams fewer friendlies and more games that matter, the benefit of that has appeared to be paying off in the short term at the Gold Cup.
For now, this Gold Cup has offered up a snapshot of where Concacaf wants to be. Honduras, ousted from the tournament way too early, became a casualty of tiny Curacao, one of those surprise storylines to emerge from the group stage. Haiti has also overachieved the past two weeks, getting the best of Costa Rica in the group stage and Canada on Saturday night in the quarterfinals. This may be no fluke in terms of the success of Caribbean nations at this competition.
Landon Donovan, working as a studio analyst for Fox Sports, summed it up best Saturday night: “The football world is getting smaller and smaller. So every small country is getting better and better.”
Here are three storylines to emerge from this Gold Cup:
Potential USA vs Mexico final
Despite the number of upsets at this tournament and at past editions, Mexico or the USA normally win this tournament. With the exception of Canada’s shock win in 2000, it's always one or the other. There's an aura of predictability to this biennial competition.
It's no surprise that the Gold Cup sets up to produce a USA vs Mexico final. That's the situation this time with Mexico playing Haiti on one side of the bracket and the USMNT against Jamaica on the other. It doesn't always work out. Over the past 14 editions, these two heavyweights have only faced each other in the title game five times. The last meeting came in 2011 with El Tri taking the cup. won by the Mexicans in 2011. This time, the USA advanced with that 1-0 win over Curacao and has yet to concede a goal at this tournament. Christian Pulisic setting up Weston McKennie's goal is a positive sign for that next generation of the USMNT.
“It’s a connection that we are developing and improving on,” said McKennie about his partnership with Pulisic. “Hopefully in the next games it will be even better.”
Jamaica, meanwhile, will be looking to pull off another upset. For the USMNT, this is their toughest challenge to date at this Gold Cup.
Central American slump
At past World Cups, Concacaf has often shined. The best example occurred in 2014 when three of the region’s representatives reached the knockout round. Costa Rica overachieved at that tournament, eliminated in the quarterfinals after pushing the Netherlands to penalties.
Fast forward to now and the promise of Costa Rica hasn’t always delivered. They have been inconsistent over the past five years, an eternity in any sport. What they can do going forward remains a question mark after losing to Mexico on penalties in the quarterfinals.
In general, it has not been a great Gold Cup for Central American sides. Case in point is Honduras, a team that also contends for World Cup Qualification every cycle, but unable move the needle at the Gold Cup. Same for quarterfinalist for Panama, ousted by Jamaica in the quarterfinals.
What do the four remaining nations at this Gold Cup tell us about Concacaf? Mexico and the United States remain the teams to beat, bringing predictability to a tournament that has been anything but. At the other end of the spectrum are the Caribbean sides Haiti and Jamaica. After its shock elimination of Canada, Haiti remain the tournament’s Cinderella story.
Has this Gold Cup given us a precursor to what we will see once qualifying kicks off? It’s hard to predict. The Gold Cup has often operated in a bubble. Teams have often not been at full strength and managers have used the tournament to test lineups and players.
If anything, this Gold Cup has shown that there are no minnows in Concacaf. Never underestimate any opponent in the region these days.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Q&A with USMNT player Jordan Morris
- 2019 Gold Cup Preview: The USMNT's opponents in Group D
- International absences make it difficult for six MLS teams
- Longevity in MLS
Photo by Steve Limentani - ISIPhotos.com