With the 2017 Gold Cup just around the corner, it is time to take a look at the USMNT and the three other teams competing to win Group B.
Like previous years, the USMNT is one of the heavy favorites to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup. On paper, one would assume the U.S. will run through Group B and beat Martinique, Panama and Nicaragua with ease, but in reality, it probably won’t be that easy.
Teams like Panama, Martinique and Nicaragua will be looking to make a statement at this tournament, so every game matters. The Gold Cup won’t be a cakewalk for the USMNT, but it will be a good test for the team’s younger players.
Back in March, Panama managed to pull out a 1-1 draw against the U.S. in World Cup Qualifying. It was an impressive performance from the Central American nation.
Since then, head coach Hernán Darío Gómez and Panama have drawn against Costa Rica and Honduras. At the moment, Panama is fourth in the CONCACAF WCQ standings. Only a point behind the United States.
As a result, Panama have a legit shot at making the 2018 World Cup and should not be taken lightly. They will pose the biggest threat to the U.S. in the group stage.
Fans should also remember Panama beat the U.S. in the previous edition of the Gold Cup. With the international experience Panama has on its roster, the Central American nation should fair well in the tournament.
Prediction: Runner-up in Group B
Coming off of a 1-0 loss to French Guyana for fourth place in the Caribbean Cup, Martinique will be looking to bounce back against Nicaragua in its Gold Cup opener. The team has not won a game since last October, but the Gold Cup is a nice place to start winning.
The biggest problem for Les Matinino is that they lack star power. Martinique does not have the same talent level as Mexico, the U.S. or Costa Rica.
The Caribbean team will have to rely on the best player they have, which is probably forward Steeven Langil. The Waasland-Beveren forward has performed well for Martinique recently, scoring four goals in only six appearances.
He will have to step up and play exceptionally well for Martinique to have a shot of making it out the group stage.
Prediction: Last in Group B
Wins are rare and far between for Nicaragua. Without much star power, this Central American country has very little to lose in this tournament and a lot to win.
After knocking off Haiti 4-3 on aggregate, Nicaragua became the final nation to qualify for the Gold Cup. Much like Martinique, Nicaragua will be struggling with an uphill battle against more talented teams.
The best thing Nicaragua has is familiarity with its own players. Nearly every player on the team plays in Nicaragua and a majority of them play for the club Real Estelí F.C.
Perhaps this chemistry can prove to be a factor in Nicaragua’s battle to make it out of the group stage. Nicaragua’s first match in the Gold Cup will be against Martinique on July 8th.
Prediction: Third in Group B
The United States
With the World Cup about a year away, the Gold Cup is the perfect place for head coach Bruce Arena to test out younger players. Familiar faces like Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood will not be available.
Most of these main roster regulars that play overseas have club commitments or are on vacation. A majority of the Gold Cup roster comes from the MLS.
Even without its stars, the U.S. should win Group B. From there, the U.S. will have to worry about Mexico and Costa Rica. Getting to the final will not be easy, but it is possible.
The USMNT has not won the Gold Cup since 2013 and in the previous edition of the tournament in 2015, the U.S. finished in fourth after a disappointing run in the knockout rounds.
Even if the U.S. fails to win the Gold Cup, Coach Arena will still have seen which players he will likely call up for future qualifiers. Winning the Gold Cup is not necessarily a priority.
Fans should keep an eye on Kenny Saief (KAA Gent), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders) and Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City). These are all players who are getting their first call-up with the USMNT.
Plenty of players will be battling for minutes in the Gold Cup. With the World Cup only a year away, every performance matters. Everyone wants to make a good impression.
The USMNT will play its opening game of the Gold Cup against Panama on July 8th.
Prediction: Winner of Group B
The 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup will begin on Friday, July 7th.