The US Men’s National Team have been on a roller coaster since early in the year, enduring injuries, a coaching change, and a World Cup qualifying disappointment in Columbus, Ohio. Now, they will head to the Rose Bowl for the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup. This year’s tournament has been full of surprises, with Mexico, an American-dominated region, defeating Honduras and Panama in the quarterfinals and Costa Rica, another American team, defeating Trinidad & Tobago.
Mexican club sides are not the only ones hoping to make a splash in this year’s Gold Cup. Both the United States and Mexico have the tough task of trying to pull off a big upset in the first legs tonight, since they will be playing against the top two seeds from CONCACAF.
The USMNT advances to the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup, while Mexico were eliminated from the tournament on penalties by Curacao.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals are here, and reigning champions Mexico and co-favorites the United States faced some tough competition throughout group play.
El Tri and the USMNT will go up against Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Canada, and invitees Qatar in the elimination phase if they are to advance to the Aug. 1 final in Las Vegas.
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ESPN examines the upcoming matchups and what to anticipate from the games this weekend.
Jump to: Jamaica against. United States | Honduras vs. Mexico | El Salvador vs. Qatar | Costa Rica vs. Canada is a matchup between two countries.
Jamaica vs. the United States
When: 9:30 p.m. ET on Sunday (Arlington, Texas)
Form guide: USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter sent a youthful team to the Gold Cup, but they, like many of their predecessors, won all three of their group games. That isn’t to say the journey has been simple.
While the US comfortably defeated Martinique 6-1 in the second match, it struggled to beat Haiti and Canada, both by a score of 1-0. With experienced defender Walker Zimmerman out with a hamstring injury, midfielder Paul Arriola dealing from a similar illness, and striker Daryl Dike battling with a shoulder injury, the United States is also hurting.
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The departure of Zimmerman is worrisome because it thins down an already slender corps of center backs. The defense, on the other hand, has wowed, with Miles Robinson, James Sands, and Sam Vines all performing far above their years. Shaq Moore has re-iterated his argument for future membership in the United States.
Performances have been more varied farther up the field, particularly in terms of game management. It’s not going to get any easier now that the knockout stages have come.
Following 2-0 and 2-1 victories against Suriname and Guadeloupe, respectively, the “Reggae Boyz” finished second in Group C after a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in the group stage finale. Given the amount of opportunities wasted, the final outcome was severe on Jamaica, with Andre Gray among the most wasteful. But this was also a game in which manager Theodore Whitmore rested a large portion of his first-team lineup, ostensibly to avoid yellow card sanctions.
When available, Jamaica’s starting lineup has looked explosive in recent weeks, with Leon Bailey, Shamar Nicholson, and Cory Burke of the Philadelphia Union grabbing the eye. The defense has been strong, and Andre Blake of the Union has performed well in goal when called upon.
How it will play out: The United States will aim to do a better job of controlling the pace of the game. Given the uncertainties along the back line, an advantage in possession will help cover a squad that lacks experience, which was a problem against Haiti and particularly Canada. The major issue is whether Berhalter will go with a four-man backline or stick with the three-center-back configuration due to the limited alternatives in the back.
The host team will also aim to restrict transition chances for Bailey and his teammates to assault the Americans quickly. Bailey’s probable battle with Vines will be one to watch, but both Vines and Moore will be trying to push forward and assist Jamaica in pinning them back.
Finishing has been a problem for Jamaica, but when they have converted, they have been magnificent. Jamaica was also expected to do a better job of keeping possession, but it did well enough to progress. Jamaica’s athletic and veteran team will give the Americans all they can handle, particularly in transition. Jeff Carlisle’s quote
The USMNT will be put to the test in the Gold Cup against a strong Jamaican team. Getty Images/Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire
Mexico vs. Honduras
When: Saturday, October 10th, 10:00 p.m. ET (Arizona, Glendale)
Mexico has battled hard to generate and finish opportunities against every opponent it has played at the Gold Cup since Hirving “Chucky” Lozano went down with a frightening head injury in the Group A opener against Trinidad and Tobago.
Mexico’s four goals are the lowest of the eight teams that qualified for the quarterfinals, and attacker Rogelio Funes Mori has cooled down considerably following a bright start in his friendly debut against Nigeria. Mexico has controlled possession in all of its games so far, but has failed to break through against tight defensive formations in every game with one exception. El Tri had the ball for 83 percent of the game against Trinidad and Tobago, and mustered 30 attempts on goal in the process, but were held to a 0-0 stalemate.
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Fortunately for the defending champions, they’ll be up against a Honduran team that has surrendered the most goals of any of the tournament’s survivors. If Mexico scores early in the quarterfinal encounter, the pressure on Honduras will be reduced considerably as the game progresses, enabling fast wingers Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Orbelin Pineda to launch counterattacks when Honduras is forced to push forward after being downed.
Honduras, unlike their following opponents, hasn’t been short on offensive firepower. Los Catrachos scored seven goals in each of their first two games, defeating Grenada and Panama to go to the next round. In the Group D finale, however, they were severely outmatched by Asian Cup champions Qatar, and many key players were injured, including playmaker Alberth “La Pantera” Elis, attacking engine Romell Quioto, and defensive captain Maynor Figueroa.
The most pressing issue for Honduras going forward will be not just whether Quioto and Figueroa are fit to play against Mexico (Elis is out with a fractured toe), but also how effective they will be and if anybody else can fill in if those two are unavailable.
What will happen: There are basically two situations that will determine what each side will do. Mexico, in their aggressive position, will almost certainly stick with the 4-3-3 system, which has had mixed success without Lozano as the anchor. Honduras will defend with eight or nine players, regardless of formation, in an effort to force errors and create counterattacks against a largely inexperienced Mexican defense.
As previously said, El Tri has to score early so that it can continue to control the pace of the game and launch counterattacks of its own if Honduras is forced to play in an elimination game. If Honduras can resist Mexico’s assaults and even score a goal of its own, it will apply maximum pressure to its opponents as time passes.
Mexico can’t afford to lose this CONCACAF match, particularly after losing the Nations League final to the USMNT in June. El Tri, on the other hand, is fortunate to face a battered Honduras team that failed to impress in the group stage. Eric Gomez’s remark
Mexico will rely on Rogelio Funes Mori and Oberlin Pineda now that Chucky Lozano is gone. Getty Images/ANDY JACOBSOHN/AFP
Qatar vs. El Salvador
When: 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday (Arizona, Glendale)
El Salvador is on the rise under new manager Hugo Perez, who has only lost two times in nine matches and has qualified for the final round of World Cup qualification for the first time in three cycles. El Salvador were a fascinating watch in group play, with ex-Fiorentina player Josh Perez (son of Hugo) and the energetic Jairo Henriquez creating plenty of opportunities in 2-0 victories against Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago.
El Salvador’s performance in a close 1-0 loss to Mexico in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas shown that they would not be intimidated by any opponent in this tournament.
Invitees Qatar came at the Gold Cup as a mystery team, but they immediately demonstrated that the reigning Asian Cup winners aren’t just there to fill seats. With a 2-0 victory against Honduras on Tuesday night, Felix Sanchez’s side pipped Honduras to the top position in Group D and are the tournament’s highest scorers with nine goals.
With 16, Xavi’s Al Sadd protégé Akram Afif leads the competition in opportunities created, and is one of three Qatari players with two goals, alongside Almoez Ali and Abdelaziz Hatem.
How it will play out: While El Salvador’s frenetic approach won over neutrals during group play, doing so against Qatar’s high-scoring team may be risky. Hugo Perez would be well-served to try and tighten up his team at the back to avoid being punished in the quarterfinals. La Selecta rode their luck a bit and had the brilliant Mario Gonzalez in goal (five saves) against Mexico, so Hugo Perez would be well-served to try and tighten up his team at the back to avoid being punished in the quarterfinals.
Game management will be crucial for Qatar, as the future World Cup hosts must avoid allowing careless goals and blowing leads, as they did three times against Panama in their opener. Qatar may get carried away offensively, and they can’t afford to switch off at the back in a knockout game, particularly on set pieces.
While this game isn’t the most high-profile of the quarterfinals, it promises to be one of the most exciting, as both sides are trained to assault the goal, ensuring a lively contest. In what could be a thrilling, back-and-forth encounter, Qatar will have a small advantage owing to their abundance of offensive skill and precise finishing in front of goal. Gus Elvin’s quote
Costa Rica vs. Canada
When: 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday (Arlington, Texas)
Canada had an eight-game winning run before its last group stage encounter against the United States, and although the match ended in a 1-0 loss, Canada outplayed the Americans for extended periods and will be a dangerous team in the knockout stages. Even without its two star players, Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, Canada strolled through Haiti and Martinique, winning both games 4-1, and would have won the tiebreaker if the USMNT had drawn.
After coming into the tournament on a poor run of form, Costa Rica reestablished itself as a threat to advance deep into the tournament with three group-stage wins. Bryan Ruiz’s goal secured a pivotal 1-0 win against Jamaica to top the group, while Joel Campbell contributed to Los Ticos’ win against Guadeloupe.
How it will play out: It wasn’t an issue in the previous two games against outmatched opponents, but Canada was unable to generate many serious opportunities against the US. Costa Rica’s defense hasn’t been as strong as the US’s, but it could provide a comparable struggle to break down, particularly since both Ayo Akinola and Cyle Larin are missing due to injury. Canada may be forced to sit deeper than it would normally and try to hit on the counter if none of its top offensive options are available.
Because Luis Fernando Suarez’s hiring came only weeks before the tournament, Costa Rica’s experienced team was a bit of an uncertainty heading into it. That makes it difficult to predict what creases may emerge at this point of the tournament. Costa Rica, on the other hand, is likely to feel at ease in a high-stakes encounter against a more inexperienced opponent because of its seasoned lineup. Kyle Bonagura (Kyle Bonagura)
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