The Gold Cup is the North American, Central American and Caribbean regional championship. It is played biennially (every two years) and the winner is recognized as the best national team in the region. Occasionally the winner of the Gold Cup also qualifies for the FIFA Confederations Cup, although this happens only in the year that the Gold Cup is played before the Confederations Cup. So the winner of the 2009 Gold Cup will have bragging rights and will gain some in the FIFA World Rankings, but a win does not automatically qualify the winner for any other tournament.
The tournament is being hosted by the US this year. The US are the defending champions and are making their 10th appearance in the tournament and are four time champions, having won in 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007.
Much like other major soccer tournaments, the Gold Cup features a group stage. The top two teams in each group after group play qualify for the Knockout Round where you either win or you go home.
There are 12 teams in the Gold Cup this year. Other than the US, the tournament features Mexico making their 10th appearance and they are also 4 time winners. Joining the US and Mexico are:
- Canada - 9th appearance
- Jamaica - 7th appearance
- Grenada - 1st appearance
- Guadeloupe - 2nd appearance
- Haiti - 4th appearance
- Panama - 4th appearance
- Costa Rica - 9th appearance
- Honduras - 9th appearance
- El Salvador - 6th appearance
- Nicaragua - 1st appearance
The four teams contesting Group A are Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Jamaica. Costa Rica are the favorites in this group with 2nd being pretty much up for grabs.
The four teams contesting Group B are Grenada, Haiti, Honduras and the US. Look for Honduras and the US to advance from this group.
The four teams contesting Group C are Guadeloupe, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. Anything other than Mexico and Panama advancing from this group would be a huge upset.
The overall favorite in the tournament is Mexico. Mexico is bringing their premier, world cup quality line up to play in this tournament. Costa Rica will also be a strong challenger, given how well they have played in recent world cup qualifying and they too are bringing their "A" team.
The US will be a contender, but is not a favorite due to the roster the US is bringing to this tournament. Having recently played in the Confederations Cup, most of the best US players have had to go back to their club teams. Most club teams refused to release their US based players for back to back tournaments, so the US decided to send their best players to contest the Confederations Cup, which says something about the quality of the top US players today. 10 years ago club teams would have not cared about their US players, since most of them were bench warmers. Now that US players are big time starters, in a lot of cases, their club teams do not want to be without them for any longer than they have to. Obviously this is a huge advantage for Mexico, Costa Rica, etc. as they will have their best teams in play and the US will not.
So the US is sending their "B" or even "C" team into this Gold Cup, which should still mean they can advance from their group but I wouldn't expect the US to be able to advance to the final when Mexico and Costa Rica are sending their best teams.
Finally, the dark horses in this tournament are Panama and Honduras. Honduras because they have played well of late and play well on US soil and Panama because they have advanced to the Gold Cup final in the recent past and they always seem to play well in this tournament.
Games begin on July 4th with the US taking on Grenada. The Knockout Round begins on July 18th with the final on July 26th in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
Coming off the Confederations Cup, do you think you'll watch the Gold Cup and see what the US can do? And who do you think will win?
For more information about the Gold Cup, check out the CONCACAF website.