Mexico's hard fought 1-o victory over Panama last night in Houston ensured that the US would avoid playing Mexico until a potential Gold Cup final on June 24th in Chicago. Had a draw taken place last night the US would have played Mexico on Saturday in Foxboro, MA in the quarterfinals. Instead now the US will face Panama.
While avoiding Mexico this early in the tournament sounds good in concept, EL Tri looks sluggish and already suffers from a massive confidence issue when playing the US on American soil. Moreover playing the Mexicans in front of what would sure to be a partisan American crowd in Foxboro rather than a tilted pro Mexican crowd in Chicago would have been nice also.
Right now Mexico's attack seems to lack the clinical finishing we've seen in the past and as Football crazed Central American nations develop more organization within their federations and domestic leagues the gap in CONCACAF is shrinking. Fox Soccer Channel's Christopher Sullivan has remarked during the telecasts of both MLS and Gold Cup matches that nations such as Honduras, Panama and Guatemala have the technical skill but just need the organization and the understanding of the game to challenge Mexico and the US atop CONCACAF. Judging by the first week of the Gold Cup, Sullivan is looking like a prophet.
The Quarterfinal Matchups in the Gold Cup are as follows:
Saturday in Foxboro:
Canada versus Guatemala
USA versus Panama
Sunday in Houston:
The US matchup against Panama is tricky, but little doubt can exist that at this point the US is the best team in the tournament. The free flowing attacking play of the triangle up top (which Major League Soccer Talk Correspondent Michael Haley explains in this week's podcast) in the US attack, featuring Clint Dempsey, DeMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan has created far more scoring opportunities for the Americans than any other team in the competition. While the finishing has been suspect, the US is creating so many chances in each game it's almost impossible to see them not winning the event. But danger does remain in the tournament.
Canada, a potential semifinal opponents has shook off the poor performance in a loss to Guadeloupe and regained some confidence. Canada has a number of skilled attacking players that could create fits for the US. However, Canada's defense is shaky and Goalkeeping situation is up in the air with an injury to Greg Sutton and some nagging worries about Pat Onstad.
Honduras and Guadelope meet in the Quarterfinals, Sunday and both teams have played excellent football thus far. Guadeloupe was unfortunate not to beat Haiti and win Group A, while Honduras shook off a disappointing loss to Panama when reduced to ten men to beat Mexico and crush Cuba. Amado Guevarra is Honduras' #10 and despite being currently unsettled in MLS (and requesting a transfer back home), the former league MVP has been nothing short of spectacular in the tournament. Guadeloupe for their part have become the smallest administrative body to advance to a knock out stage of a major Continental Championship. While Guadeloupe is likely to get beat by Honduras, they are certainly a footballing nation worth keeping an eye on the next few years.