by Rob Joyce
Consider it a primer to next summer’s World Cup in Russia. Last weekend the United States kicked off the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 1-1 draw against Panama. The 16-team tournament, held every two years, doesn’t actually hold much significance on a grand scale – there won’t be any World Cup qualifications here, and there’s no guarantee the winner qualifies for the 2021 Confederations Cup. But it’s a chance for Bruce Arena to continue his quest to find the best team for next year on the grand stage.
For the fastest-growing television sport in America, here are five quick facts you should know as you watch the Americans continue group play against Martinique and Nicaragua this week.
1) The USMNT is looking to bounce back from their 2015 performance.
Starting with a Gold Cup victory in penalties against Panama in 2005, the Americans had at least made it to the finals for five straight tournaments prior to the 2015 event, when they faltered. A 2-1 setback to Jamaica in the semifinals ended their championship game run, and a loss in penalties to Panama secured fourth place for the United States. The only other time they finished worse was in 2000, when they lost to Colombia in the quarterfinal round.
2) Expect the Americans to advance beyond the group stage.
The draw against Panama improves the USMNT’s group stage record at the Gold Cup to 30 wins, four draws and one loss, coming against Panama in 2011. The remaining opponents don’t inspire much fear: Nicaragua is ranked 105th in the world, while Wednesday’s opponent, Martinique, isn’t a FIFA member and has just a 3-2-7 all-time Gold Cup record. With the top two teams in the group advancing to the quarterfinals, the U.S. should be one of them.
3) The U.S. has a lot of young players vying for a regular spot on the national team.
There are 23 players on the roster for the U.S. and of them, only 15 have more than a pair of caps for the senior team. Among the notables are 21-year-old Matt Miazga (property of Chelsea), 22-year-old Kelyn Rowe (who had a gorgeous assist on the lone American goal vs. Panama) and Dom Dwyer (who scored said goal).
4) The tournament is likely the United States’ or Mexico’s to lose.
There have been 13 prior Gold Cups, beginning in 1991. Of those 13, a dozen have been won by either Mexico (seven) or the U.S. (five). The lone outlier is Canada, who in 2000 took the championship. Looking at this year’s field, Mexico is the only team in the FIFA World Rankings’ top-20 (they’re 16th). Costa Rica (26th) and the U.S. (35th) are the next highest in the rankings.
5) The winner of the 2017 Gold Cup has a chance to play in the 2021 Confederations Cup.
The Confederations Cup is an eight-team tournament held every four years opposite the World Cup. The winner of this year’s Gold Cup will face the winner of the 2019 Gold Cup in a playoff, with the winner moving on to the Confederations Cup in a yet-to-be-determined Asian country. There, they will play the host nation, next year’s World Cup winner, and five other regional champions. The U.S. has been to four Confederations Cups, most recently finishing second to Brazil in 2009.