The weather is getting warmer. Vaccinations are on the rise and COVID-19 cases are on the decline. As a result, stadiums and arenas are starting to welcome fans back. So, the 2021 Gold Cup enters at just the right time.
Soccer fans couldn’t be more excited to be able to see the game live again. The recent CONCACAF Nations League tournament helped decide who qualified for this year’s Copa de Oro. Nations League was fun to watch, especially last week’s semifinals and championship game. Now, the hope is that the momentum from Nations League will carry over into the 2021 Gold Cup. This year’s edition of Copa de Oro begins on July 3rd and runs through August 1st.
Here are five storylines to watch heading into CONCACAF’s signature tournament.
1. A Different Format
Much like the NBA and their play-in format. The final three spots of the tourney are still open. That’s because, although there will four groups with four teams in each group, this year’s Gold Cup will begin with a set of qualifying games to determine which three teams get those final three open slots.
Haiti (the Cinderella story of 2019) takes on St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They’ll play the winner of Bermuda and Barbados in qualifying bracket No. 1. Bracket No. 2 features Guatemala and Guyana, the winner of which will play the victor of Guadeloupe vs. The Bahamas. While Bracket No. 3 has Trinidad and Tobago against Montserrat, the winner of whom will face the winner of the Cuba/French Guiana game.
The six winners of these games will meet on July 6th, with the three surviving teams grabbing the final spots in groups A, B, and C, respectively. This was all based on performance during the early rounds of the Nations League.
2. Team USA Is Relevant
The confidence is certainly there after defeating arch-rival Mexico to win the first-ever CONCACAF Nations League championship last week. The U.S. broke a two-match losing streak to “El Tri” in that game, one of which was the 2019 Gold Cup championship game. Team USA is now 3-4-1 in their last eight games with Mexico, and the Nations League trophy was their first title since the 2017 Gold Cup. All the momentum is on their side heading into this tournament, where the United States seeks its sixth Gold Cup trophy, and it’s seventh title in team history. With the tourney hosted on US soil, you can bet for greater attention should the U.S. perform well.
3. Mexico Seeks to Regain Relevance
The motivation is there after their winning streak against the United States was broken in the Nations League final. “El Tri” also wasn’t happy with some of the calls that went against them in that game. But now they need to re-energize, refocus, and turn their attention to winning back-to-back Gold Cups for the third time in team history, winning their fourth Gold Cup title in the last decade. Picking up their 12th all-time Gold Cup championship. Mexico is favored to repeat as champions.
4. A New Opponent Gets an Invite
Middle East nation Qatar has been invited to participate in the Gold Cup for the first time ever. But, make no mistake, while they are Gold Gup neophytes, they are no strangers to major tournaments. They are the host nation for next year’s FIFA World Cup, winners of the last AFC Asian Cup, participated in the 2019 Copa America where they finished 10th. And they are three-time champions of the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Qatar drew Group D in the Gold Cup, so they’ll play Honduras, Panama, and Grenada in the early going. Qatar has never played either team, in fact they’re just 0-2-1 all-time against CONCACAF squads. Those games were a 2010 loss to Haiti, a 2017 loss to Curacao and a 2020 draw with Costa Rica. All those games were friendlies. But this team has proven that they can hold their own on the big stage.
5. New Contenders on the Horizon
Honduras will be a team to watch as they won the third-place game in the Nations League. They didn’t make it past the group stage in the Gold Cup two years ago, but they reached the quarterfinals back in 2017.
Don’t sleep on Costa Rica. They finished fourth in Nations League play and reached the quarterfinals or higher in every Gold Cup since 2000 (finished 5th in 2019).
Panama has reached the quarterfinals or higher in every Gold Cup since 2005. This includes being the runners-up to Team USA in both 2005 and 2013. They’ve also posted two third place finishes (2011, 2015). Jamaica it’s making its fourth consecutive Gold Cup appearance; they finished fourth two years ago and were the runners-up in both 2015 and 2017. Then you have El Salvador who’s participating for the eighth straight tourney.
Let the games begin!