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Jul 122013


20130708 kkt aa9 363.0 standard 352.0 300x199 Five Observations From Games 1 and 2 (Well Most of Game 2) Of the Gold Cup

(Author’s Note: My apologies on getting this out a little late. Any time that your kickball team loses 20-1, you need a night to drink cheap beers and play darts. )

Having watched a few tournaments in my time, I have to say that this has so far been one of the most exciting set of first round games that I have ever seen in a soccer tournament, let alone the Gold Cup. With teams like Panama and Martinique pulling off upsets, Haiti playing two very solid games, and Chris Wondlowski finally scoring some goals for the United States, it appears that this tournament is only going to get better as we get closer to the final. So with that in mind, here are a few of my thoughts as we enter the second and third games of group play:


#1The depth of CONCACAF, both in terms of players and teams, has never been stronger.

For me the true barometer of how far CONCACAF, and the United States national team, has come can be directly correlated back to the 1990 World Cup. Before the 1990 World Cup here are the top teams in CONCACAF: Mexico and ? While Costa Rica and Honduras would make the occasional World Cup appearance, the talent pool in the Confederation was small. Now with the rise of the United States and Costa Rica as dominant powers in the region, and teams like El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Panama improving, this Confederation is the strongest that it has ever been.

When I watched Haiti-Honduras the other night, one of the things that really caught my eye was how much their styles reflected their former European owners. Haiti plays WITH A French mentality, one of that relies on physical strength in the their forwards and defenders and gives the creative controls to the midfield. Meanwhile, Honduras tries to play the tika-taka Spanish style, lulling their opponents to sleep with possession and then scoring with a certain moment of brilliance. Smaller nations for years have employed coaches from various European countries to install these European styles, mostly with limited success. But what is different this time is that it seems to be working.

Having more quality teams in CONCACAF can only improve the overall play in the tournament, but also strengthen the top teams as well. It does the United States, Mexico, and Costa Rica no good to beat teams 7-0. Playing against quality competition will only make the top team’s players better. Even having a sparring partner like Martinique, who cannot play in the FIFA World Cup because they are still a part of the French Republic, who can field a capable side and play some good football is an asset to CONCACAF.

Although there are still some minnows like Belize and Cuba swimming around, there are many more big fish in the CONCACAF fish bowl.

#2The effect of Major League Soccer on CONCACAF cannot be understated

Major League Soccer often gets criticized for not being European enough, for not producing the next great superstar, and for not being as fun to watch as the best leagues in the world. While the style of play is certainly not like La Liga, and the teams in MLS may not be on par with the top European clubs, I would beg to differ on it not being able to produce quality players. If you look at the lineups of all of the teams playing in this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, only three teams do not have a player that either currently plays for has played for an MLS Club: Cuba (which is impossible given the embargo,) Mexico, and Belize. Anytime I have turned on the Gold Cup the past few days, I have seen an MLS goalkeeper make an amazing save (Nick Rimando-U.S.A./Real Salt Lake,) score an amazing goal (Jairo Arrieta-Costa Rica/Columbus Crew,) set up a game winning goal (Frederic Piquionne-Martinique/Portland,) or act like a magician in the midfield (Andy Najar- Honduras/formerly with D.C. United.) Of the 17 players who have scored in the Gold Cup so far this year, 7 of them have played in Major League Soccer.

It seems that because Major League Soccer scouts and signs players all throughout the region, that they are able to buy the best players and give them excellent training and eventually make them better players. This kind of ties into my first observation in that if these players are playing at a higher level, that they will pass those skills that they have learned back to their National Team, which will in turn make them play better. Even if the players do not play in Major League Soccer, the fact that there is another quality league to play against in the CONCACAF Champions League (the North and Central America equivalent to the UEFA Champions League) will make players who play for Monterrey and Marathon better.

The resources and effort that Major League Soccer has placed on development of the beautiful game has not only benefited the United States, but the entire CONCACAF region.

#3 I would hate to put too much emphasis on two games, but Mexico is in deep trouble.

When I first started researching this Mexico squad, I thought it was a great opportunity for the team to breathe some new life into their squad. Manager Jose de la Torre brought in a lot of players who lacked experience on the national team level, but had shown in Liga MX that they were quality players looking for the right opportunities. I thought that these players would play with a little more attitude and a lot less entitlement. I was wrong.

I am not sure who that team playing Panama was last Sunday, but it certainly did not look like the Mexico team that I had grown to know and love (and sometimes loathe when they were beating the United States.) They had absolutely no imagination in the midfield, their forwards looked lost, and their defense could not stop a Panama team that did not have its best player, Blas Perez. The Mexico team that I had always known were mentally tough, who always seemed to keep themselves in the game, and would always prey on another team’s mistake. Panama missed at least 5 gimme goals, and where in the past Mexico would seize the opportunity and crush their opponent’s spirit, this team instead allowed a goal late in the first half to go behind 2-1.

They did look a bit better in the game against Canada. They were spreading the ball out on the flank much better and were to get more quality balls into Marco Fabian. But even in the Canada match, they still looked to be a bit outclassed by a Canadian team that they should be demolishing by 4 or 5 goals.

In a competition where teams like Panama and Haiti have shown that they are improving greatly, and where the United States has shown that they have good depth, it seems like Mexico still has yet to show up.

#4 Canada is by far the worst team in the entire Gold Cup

While it would be easy to point out that Belize and Cuba were beaten by much wider margins in their games against the United States and Costa Rica, Canada has given a much worse performance. Belize and Cuba are both minnows and were beaten by teams that are two of the best in CONCACAF and the world. Canada lost to Martinique, who let’s give them full credit played an amazing, but rarely plays friendlies or in tournaments. It is astonishing how bad Canada really is. You would figure that a country that invests very heavily in their soccer academies, who has seen three MLS clubs develop young Canadian talent, and who has some European-based players could be able to put on a better performance than this.

With every other team, there is at least one facet of their game that I could say was playing pretty well. Even Mexico has seen players like Marco Fabian and Goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco play quite well. The only two players that I can honestly say of Canada’s that have even put in a marginally good performance are Rusell Teibert and Will Johnson. They look like they are at least trying on the pitch. After Martinique scored, it looked the team almost knew that this was coming. Perhaps they did: During the match they had been outshot 27-8, even though they had 59 percent of the possession.

It would be easy to say that all of the play goes to the players, but I think a lion’s share of the blame goes to the Canadian Football Association. For some reason, Canada only hired their new coach, , a few weeks ago leaving and he is not even actually coaching the team in the Gold Cup. The team is actually being coached by an interim manager, Greg Sutton the former Toronto F.C. Goalkeeper. While I would have no problem if Canada was just playing a friendly match, this is Canada’s biggest tournament for the next two years! They are already out of World Cup qualifying, and the next Gold Cup is not until 2015.

It is a disgrace the attitude that the Canadian F.A. has shown this tournament. While it is true that the United States and Mexico are fielding “B” level squads, these are the two powers of CONCACAF and they can field a quality squad based off of their reserve players. So can Honduras, who is mostly using domestic-based players. But Canada is a dreadful team who could have used this tournament to build something. Instead they will be put out of their misery on Sunday when Panama beats them, and the soccer world will continue to wonder when Canada will get their act together.


#5 The play of Kevin Olimpia and Shane Orio has been remarkable

It would be easy to give the name of any one of the strikers who has scored a goal in the Gold Cup and claim that they are the breakout players of the tournament. But for me it has been the play of two of the smallest countries goalkeepers, Kevin Olimpia of Martinique and Shane Orio of Belize that have truly surprised me the most.

Having watch a little bit of each coming into the tournament, I knew that both of these players would be good, I just did not think that they would be this good. What has impressed me the most is their ability to hold off some of CONCACAF’s best strikers. Olimpia was able to stop all of Blas Perez’s shots during the Panama match, and only allowed a goal on a penalty kick that was created off of a ridiculous challenge in the 90th minute.  He has kept his team in both games and set Martinique up nicely to qualify for the next round.

As for Olimpia, it may seem odd to go credit to a goalkeeper that allowed in 6 goals, but the performance that he gave in the first half against the U.S.A. was one of the better performance s I have seen from a goalkeeper in all of soccer this past year. He is a very technically efficient keeper: he makes himself bigger on one-on-one opportunities to shrink the strikers shooting window, he reads plays very well, and he is able to recover rebounds very effectively. As I said in the preview for Belize, this is a squad that is largely made up of members of the armed services and police force of Belize. They only have two professionals on the squad. Yet the performance that they showed against the United States should be commended. In particular they play of Shane Orio.


Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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