By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jul 5, 2021) US Soccer Players – The 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup kicks off on Friday just as the Euros and Copa America prepare to crown a champion. It comes a little more than a month after the United States defeated Mexico in dramatic fashion to win the first Concacaf Nations League. Now it’s the Gold Cup’s turn to crown a regional winner. The 16th edition of the tournament runs from July 10 through August 1. This Gold Cup will, for the first time, feature VAR as well as guest country Qatar as part of group D.
The 16-team hasn’t yet been finalized. Three nations will reach the tournament proper on Tuesday after the qualification round kicked off last Friday in Florida at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. One of these three teams will be placed in Group B, joining the United States, Canada, and Martinique. The United States, it should be noted, has won the Gold Cup six times, most recently in 2017.
“Our priority is to win the Gold Cup. Anytime we’re competing for a trophy, we want to win it,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said last week after announcing the 23-player roster. “It’s going to take a good effort by the group, but it’s certainly a focus of ours. We know the games are going to be difficult, and as we looked at the roster for this tournament, we focused on guys who are in form and can help the team win.”
Mexico, the defending champions and favorites to repeat, are in Group A, along with El Salvador, Curacao, and a team to-be-determined this week. There are many questions out there as teams prepare to enter the tournament. Here are three things to watch for at this year’s Gold Cup.
USMNT to show off its depth
With two tournaments this summer, Berhalter has the rare chance to see what he has in the talent pool in a competitive environment. The Nations League allowed the first team lineup to shine. The Gold Cup will be a chance to test MLS-based talent hoping for regular call-ups as World Cup Qualifying starts in the September international window.
Allowing most of the team’s European-based players to get much-needed rest before the domestic season starts up again, Berhalter’s 23-man roster has 19 MLS players. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan is the most capped player on this roster with 64 appearances. The Atlanta United goalkeeper provides stability in the back, especially with a relatively young backline. The midfield features Kellyn Acosta of the Colorado Rapids, who could play alongside Gianluca Busio. In attack, Gyasi Zardes and Daryl Dike could form a formidable attack with DC United’s Paul Arriola in the playmaker role.
Canada looks to shine
The Canadians feature 13 MLS-based players, but it’s some of their foreign-based stars that highlight this team. Bayern Munich left-back Alphonso Davies returns for another Gold Cup. Former Orlando City striker Cyle Larin, now with Besiktas in Turkey, also made the final roster. The 11 players making their tournament debuts include Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola, whose inclusion on the team came after the Detroit-born striker chose to represent Canada at senior level. Canada is looking to have a strong tournament, coming on the heels of their 4-0 aggregate win over Haiti in World Cup Qualifying.
Advancing to the final round of qualifying for the first time since 1997 is a major step for the program. Canada has qualified for just one World Cup back in 1986. They won the Gold Cup in 2000. With a first-choice team, this is an opportunity to show that they belong among the contenders. For individual players, it’s also the chance to prove that some of Concacaf’s elite wear Canadian colors.
Qatar gets games that count
The 2022 World Cup hosts will participate as an invited team at the Gold Cup. CONMEBOL originally invited them to the Copa America, but that tournament went ahead without guest teams. Qatar’s participation comes as part of a partnership between Concacaf, the Qatar Football Association, and the 2022 World Cup hosting committee. Qatar took part in the Copa America in 2019, where they failed to get out of the group stage. The Gold Cup will give them more tournament experience ahead of next year.
It’s an interesting situation for any World Cup host, with a lack of competitive games potentially causing issues in developing a squad. That’s especially the case for an emerging team like Qatar’s. The obvious answer is to get games where they can, most notably playing group A teams in European World Cup qualifying.
At the Gold Cup, they’re playing games that count in group D with Honduras, Panama and Grenada. It isn’t the first time the Gold Cup has invited nations from outside the region. Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and South Korea all have played in the Gold Cup. Brazil finished runners-up twice, and Colombia was the team Canada beat for that 2000 title. It will be interesting to see how Qatar fares.
Once again, this is a Gold Cup with several compelling storylines. In a summer loaded with so much soccer, the spotlight returns to the USMNT. This time it’s about MLS players stepping up and finding roles before the focus shifts to World Cup qualifying.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The 4-3-3 at the EUROs and Copa America
- The growing importance of expected goals
- MLS players in EURO 2020 and the Copa America
- Review: What we learned from the USMNT in the Nations League
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