Alright soccer fans, if you are anything like me, you must be foaming at the mouth for the Gold Cup to finally get underway. After months speculating about the roster, we finally know what squad the US will be taking out onto the pitch. While “The greatest blog in the history of our time” will clearly be focusing on how the USMNT performs this month, we of course find it necessary to provide some analysis on the least sexy of the three groups that will be playing for a Confederations Cup appearance in 2013. That’s right; it’s time for Puck to give you the break down on the least exciting group in the Gold Cup: Group B. Play in Group B gets started on June 6th at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. The following match days will be June 10th in Miami, and June 13th in Red Bull Arena just outside New York City.
Group B Members: Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, Grenada
Nickname: The Spice Boys
World Ranking as of May 11, 2011: 98th
Highest Ever FIFA Ranking: 88th, July 2009
Of all the teams in Group B, Grenada is clearly the weakest, although they clearly have the second best nickname in the entire tournament. I will allow our loyal readers to stipulate which side has the best nickname. I’ll even give you a hint. It is located in the text to this website. Back to the Spice Boys. The island nation with a population just over 100,000 is not exactly what one would call a soccer powerhouse. In recent warm up matches, the squad has a 2-2 draw against Antigua and Barbuda, and a 1-0 defeat to St. Kitts and Nevis. Their final warm up match against Panama on May 29th resulted in a 2-0 loss. On their fourth coach since 2008, the side is led by home grown player Mike Adams. On a roster that includes mostly players from the Grenadian teams, the only player on the squad that may be familiar to US soccer fans is Kansas City midfielder Craig Rocaste. Normally, you would recognize a second name, New England Revolution star midfielder Shalrie Joseph. Joseph had a hard time making a decision to represent Grenada this summer, and ultimately decided it was best to stay in Boston. The injury to Benny Feilhaber (who would have been absent for the tournament anyway) probably had something to do with it, as the Revs offense wouldn’t be dynamic without both those players—but there’s an additional consideration that likely resulted in Joseph’s decision to stay home. A member of the MLS best XI in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, the choice to take time away from the Revolution would have cost him Joseph the opportunity to become the team’s all-time leader in appearances. That no longer will be an issue. Without him, one can safely say that we shouldn’t expect the squad to make a big splash this summer. While they may draw a couple games, do not expect them to reach the quarterfinals.
Nickname: The Reggae Boyz
World Ranking: 55th
Highest Ever FIFA Ranking: 27th, May 1998
It’s really difficult to hate the Reggae Boyz. Generally, it is difficult to hate anything or one or team that spells “boys”…”BOYZ”. For example, BOYZ II Men… that’s awesome. Anyway, Jamaica is the home of Bob Marley, reggae music, and a certain recreational plant that folks the world over seem to love. In addition, it is a truly great county to visit, both at resorts and in the cities. Jamaica clearly has the talent and experience to make it out of group play this summer, and possibly win Group B. Like Grenada, this island nation is no household name in international play, but they do have a decent resume. Five time Caribbean Cup winners, 1 World Cup appearance, and to date, in seven Gold Cup appearances, the best it has mustered is a third place finish in 1993. Currently ranked 55th in the world, Jamaica has played two matches leading up to the Gold Cup, with a 2-0 loss to Venezuela, and a 3-2 victory over El Salvador. Leading the squad since 2009 is midfielder Theodore Whitmore.
When examining the remainder of the roster, the first thing to notice is that is it littered with MLS players from all over the league, most notably Red Bulls midfielder (sometimes forward for country) Dane Richards and Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Richards has stated nine games for the Red Bulls this campaign, collecting two goals and two assists. Pressure on Richards will be even higher in the wake of striker Omar Cummings’ decision to skip at least the group stages of the 2011 Gold Cup, citing the importance of remaining with his MLS side Colorado as he comes off an injury suffered in early May. It is possible that Cummings will return for the quarterfinals, but they will need to reach that stage first. If Cummings does re-join the team, Jamaica will have a chance at winning a quarterfinal if the dynamic duo of Cummings and Richards can find the back of the net. That said, without both in the group stages, it is difficult to see a path to a group win for a sound Jamaica team. On the defensive side, while not a big time star in the MLS, Ricketts has been a big part of the Galaxy’s success. This season he has made 28 saves in 11 starts and will certainly be called on to continue his impressive play if the Jamaicans plan on making a deep run in the tournament.
Nickname: :La Furia Azul
FIFA World Ranking as of May 11, 2011: 124
Highest Ever FIFA Ranking: 50th, April 1972
I don’t know much about Guatemala. The only things I have learned have come from a good friend’s boyfriend. In my time hanging out with this dude, I have come to know one thing for certain: just like many Latin American Countries, these people are passionate about their football. Regardless of how well the team is doing, the fans will be supportive until the end, and there is something to be said for that. So, we know the fans are passionate. What about the team itself?
In the run up to the Gold Cup, the team has had some tough results versus some formidable competition, including loses to Nicaragua and Honduras and a draw against Bolivia. Although they have never qualified for a World Cup, they have made 14 Gold Cup appearances, winning the competition twice. Guatemala is managed by former Paraguayan goalkeeper, Ever Hugo Almeida, who is looking to lead the team back to international relevance. Although their current world ranking is only 124, this team is nothing to sneeze at for one major reason: Carlos Ruiz. MLS fans should be well aware of Ruiz’s capability to find the back of the net. During his time in MLS, while playing for several different teams, he has been able to tally 82 goals and has the important distinction of being the leading scorer in MLS postseason history. On the international level, he has scored 42 goals for his country in 87 appearances. Needless to say, any defense that suits up against Guatemala will need to be aware of where Ruiz is at all times. Another player to keep an on eye is Chicago Fire youngster and midfielder Marco Pappa. At only 23, Pappa had an excellent year in 2010, and is starting off the 2011 season strong, netting four goals on 30 shots for a Fire side that has otherwise been underwhelming.
Nickname: Los Catrachos
FIFA Ranking As of May 11, 2011: 43rd
Highest Ever FIFA Ranking: 20th, January 2001
The second favorite in Group B has to be Honduras. Confidence is high as the team is coming off one of the best years in the country’s football history with their second World Cup appearance last summer. In regards to the Gold Cup, they have made 15 appearances winning the competition once in 1981. When taking a looking at the roster, it is clear that this team has the talent to make some serious moves this June. Big names include EPL veterans Manyor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic), Hendry Thomas (Wigan Athletic) and the tremendous Tottenham Hotspur holding midfielder Wilson Palacios.
Despite the fact that this team has some talent, new coach and former Columbian international Luis Fernando Suarez has made headlines with not who he has included but by whom he has left off the roster. Shocking soccer writers throughout CONCACAF, Suarez omitted rising DC United starlet Andy Najar from this 23 man squad. After moving to the US at the age of 13, Najar was eligible to represent both nations and has been heavily courted by both. To the disappointment of many USMNT fans, Najar stated early in April that should he be selected, he would chose to play for his native Honduras over his adopted nation. After this decision it is completely baffling to me that he has been left of the roster, simply because the Gold Cup created an opportunity for the Catrachos to lock him up for future competitions. What this will do to Najar’s international status in uncertain, but he is clearly disappointed with the omission. Even without Najar’s goal scoring ability, Honduras has the talent to win Group B and make an appearance in the quarterfinals. The one thing that could hurt Honduras going into the tournament is a lack of warm up games. Honduras has yet to play a friendly in the months of April and May, and the rust could to difficult to shake off in the Group stages. On the other hand, the rest for many international players after long seasons could be beneficial. Time will tell is this strategy pays off. One thing is for sure– their fans will have every opportunity to cheer for national hero Jon Bornstein, who is of course on the USMNT roster.
Predicting scores in not my thing, so I will give you all a brief overview of what I think will end up happening. From the top down, I think Honduras will find a way to win the Group with 7 points earning them with wins over Guatemala and Grenada, and a draw versus Jamaica in a hard fought 1-1 match. Jamaica should easily finish second in Group B. Expect a second draw with Guatemala and a win over Grenada leaving the Jamaicans with 5 points. Coming in third will be Guatemala with a draw against Jamaica and 1-0 win of Grenada. Due the format of the Gold Cup, these 4 points may be enough to get them into the quarterfinals, but they should be prepared for a quick exit even if that fortuitous event occurs. Finally, Grenada will be the stepping stone for all teams in Group B. I award them no points, and may God have Mercy on their souls. Essentially, I expect the final Group B table to look something like this.
At the same time, don’t be too surprised if the winner of the group is determined by goal differential between Jamaica and Honduras.
There it is your Group B preview. Feel free to leave your thought below. I can’t wait to get this thing started.
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