It is time to get down on Friday Caps fans. Another MLS-less week to be sure but one that promises to be busy for our Canadian friends.
First it was the Canadian Women’s National Team, which held off Cameroon 1-0 on Monday. Then it was the Toronto Raptors claiming the first NBA Championship in franchise history (Drake is going to be insufferable isn’t he?). And, finally, there’s tomorrow when both the men and women’s national teams will square off in major international competitions—the women against New Zealand in the afternoon and the men against Martinique in their first match of the Gold Cup in the early evening.
The Gold Cup is kind of the ugly stepchild of continental competitions—not as prestigious as the Euros or Copa America, fewer high profile European players than AFCON and seemingly always dominated by Mexico and the U.S. (Canada is the only other nation to have won the competition in the modern era of the Gold Cup).
But that might be changing this year. The relative weakness of the U.S. (shallow player pool) and Mexico (injuries) means that there is at least a glimmer of hope for other nations, many of whom are on the upswing.
There’s the always plucky Costa Rica, anchored by Real Madrid keeper Kaylor Navas (and featuring former Whitecaps man Christian Bolanos). The Ticos are always a tough out and the team will feature many of the players which have made CONCACAF Champions League such a hellscape for certain American sides.
Jamaica trots out what may well be its strongest side ever. The well-publicized acrimony between with Jamaican Football Federation notwithstanding, Leon Bailey is easily the brighest star to play for the Reggae Boyz in recent memory and will be one of the marquee attractions in the Gold Cup.
Canada has gotten ample discussion on this website but Alphonso Davies is a star in his own right and somehow still the second youngest player in the tournament (Cuba has a 17-year-old defender who beats him out). But high profile matches against Mexico and, potentially, Canada mean Phonzie Bear is set to be introduced to the few remaining North American soccer fans who aren’t familiar with his considerable talents.
And every competition needs minnows, something the Gold Cup always brings about in full force. Guyana and Bermuda make their debut in the tournament, with the both squads filled with players plying their trade domestically, out of the eye of even the most passionate (or nerdy) American soccer fan. In a confederation where the same handful of teams qualify for the World Cup every four years (insert USMNT joke here), its enthralling to see teams of this size get exposure in front of a mass audience.
And then there’s the matter of the U.S. and Mexico. After a pair of handed friendly defeats and the loss of midfield stalwart Tyler Adams to injury, the US appear to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Christian Pulisic, the newly christened Chelsea man, will have to make up for a team that was inadequate against Jamaica and Venezuela. The US’ group is not the staunchest but it does include a match against Trinidad, meaning the ghosts of qualifying past will rear that ugly head and complicate what should be a straightforward game. For a USMNT fan, this all will mean I’ll develop an ulcer by the end of the tournament. For the rest of you all, it means a reason to get your popcorn ready.
And despite their indisputably better player pool, Mexico is reeling a bit as well. Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera, Hirving Lozano, Tecatito and Carlos Vela have all pulled out of the tournament, meaning Tata Martino is without some of his biggest stars in his first international tournament. Wolverhampton striker Raul Jimenez is playing, however, and looks to carry a team which should still claim another Gold Cup trophy. How a relatively inexperienced team handles the pressure, however, will be interesting.
Plenty of intrigue and it all starts tomorrow when Canada takes on Martinique at 7: 30 ET/4:30 PT. For now, onto the links:
Shameless Self Promotion
AtlantisB breaks down the big month upcoming for Canadian soccer, Caleb takes the piss out of Americans and I take a look at the latest round of MLS salary data
Best of the Rest
An interesting look from the player perspective of having your salary publicly disclosed
Cavalry FC will be the Caps’ opponent in the third round of the Voyageurs Cup. What could go wrong?
An interesting (and correct) take on the USWNT’s 13-0 drubbing of Thailand
Austin FC has set a new MLS record with 30,000 (!) season ticket deposits in a little over a day