The CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 is just around the corner, with a hungry US team looking to avenge a 5-0 shellacking by Mexico in the 2009 championship game. Before that game, Mexico had not beaten the US on our soil since 1999. This is analogous to the US never having won at Aztec Stadium, a notoriously hostile place to play (I thought the story link did a good job illustrating the atmosphere). For most players, even breathing is hard due to the elevation of the stadium and the thin air. So, as you can see, anytime there is a potential US-Mexico match-up, it is something that cannot be missed. Follow me after the break to get the scoop on the groups and dates of the games.
I should probably start off with a quick rundown of what the Gold Cup is for those that may not follow the USMNT as closely as other teams. The CONCACAF is the conference/governing body for soccer in our part of the world. It covers North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. It is normally hosted every two years, but occasionally the tournament is played differently from this. The first official CONCACAF Championship was held in 1963. The current champion is Mexico, who also hold the record for most Gold Cup trophies with 5. IN 1990, CONCACAF decided to create a tournament to highlight the regional champion, and the Gold Cup was born.
The US performance in the first 25 years left something to be desired, and to be fair, we did not enjoy the soccer atmosphere and progress that we do now. We finally broke through in 1989 with a 2nd place finish, our highest ever Gold Cup finish up to that point. The US would one up that performance with a championship in 1991 on penalty kicks over Honduras. We would again finish as runner-up in 1993 and 1998. The US was again crowned champions in 2002, 2005, and 2007, while finishing runner up in the most recent Gold Cup in 2009.
The tournament has spawned many a memorable moment, such as Benny Feilhaber's Gold Cup winning strike in 2007. Just the thought of a possible US-Mexico match-up makes my mouth water. The Gold Cup is even more exciting given that we are just as big of a favorite to win as Mexico, if not the all-out favorites. It's amazing to think how far US soccer has come since the 1994 World Cup and how far it will continue to climb. With all of that out of the way, here is a list of the groups and fixtures for the tournament, followed by my brief thoughts.
Group 1: Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador
Group 2: Jamaica, Honduras, Grenada, Guatemala
Group 3: USA, Canada, Panama, Guadeloupe
Schedule courtesy of Soccer By Ives
June 5, Cowboys Stadium, Dallas, Texas
Costa Rica vs. Cuba, 6 p.m.
Mexico vs. El Salvador, 8 p.m.
June 6, Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
Jamaica vs. Grenada, 9 p.m.
Honduras vs. Guatemala, 11 p.m.
June 7, Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
Panama vs. Guadelope, 6 p.m.
United States vs. Canada, 8 p.m.
June 9, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Costa Rica vs. El Salvador, 7 p.m.
Cuba vs. Mexico, 9 p.m.
June 10, FIU Stadium, Miami, Fla.
Jamaica vs. Guatemala, 7 p.m.
Grenada vs. Honduras, 9 p.m.
June 11, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Canada vs. Guadeloupe, 6 p.m.
United States vs. Panama, 8 p.m.
June 12, Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
El Salvador vs. Cuba, 6 p.m.
Mexico vs. Costa Rica, 8 p.m.
June 13, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
Guatemala vs. Grenada, 7 p.m.
Honduras vs. Jamaica, 9 p.m.
June 14, KC Soccer Stadium, Kansas City, Kan.
Canada vs. Panama, 7 p.m.
Guadeloupe vs. United States, 9 p.m.
My initial thoughts are positive. Group wise, I think Mexico's is the toughest. That's not to say we will stroll through our opponents. While we should definitely take care of Panama and Guadeloupe as far as the lower tiered teams go, they could definitely make some noise. Canada is definitely up and coming and I think they should be our biggest worry in group play. I think many Canadian fans will remember the controversial game from 2007 in which a Canada goal in stoppage time was ruled to be offside, although replays seemed to show the goal should have counted. That decision preserved a 2-1 win for the US, who went on to beat Mexico in the championship game after that. You better believe Canada will be motivated to knock off their Southern neighbors. Any way you look at it, the Gold Cup is always great to watch, especially for those that may not follow the national team as much or those that want to get in to following them more. With the tournament starting in less than 3 months, it will be interesting to see how the team comes together for the tournament and whether or not we will see our regular "A team" or if it will be permeated by more of our younger prospects.