The 2021 Gold Cup, the marquee Concacaf tournament, kicked off on Saturday. Mexico and the United States (who won their opener 1-0 on Sunday) have alternated wins in this bi-annual tournament for this entire century.
16 teams participate, with the lower-ranked teams in Concacaf participating in a qualifying tournament to make it. Qatar will be involved as they try to scrap together a competent national team ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Let’s take a look at some storylines to watch:
Mexico are the favorites
As mentioned before, the US will not have most of their top talents after June’s Nations League. Mexico, by contrast, called a mostly full-strength roster. Their veteran squad, including Hector Herrera, Jonathan dos Santos, and Hector Moreno, has seen their fair share of major Concacaf games and tournaments. They will be led by electric attacker Hirving Lozano, who tore up the US in the Nations League final, and forward Rogelio Funes Mori, who recently switched from the Argentina national team.
They will be part of Group A, alongside El Salvador, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago, which shouldn’t be too difficult. El Salvador will sit deep defensively, and while Curacao is an up-and-coming squad with some Dutch-based players, they lack depth. Trinidad has fallen pretty hard in recent years; they needed a marathon penalty shootout to beat French Guiana to qualify for this tournament in the first place.
Canada on the rise
Don’t look now, but Canada is on the verge of entering a golden generation. At the center of it is, of course, Alphonso Davies, who already has nine goals in 23 caps for Canada. They also have Besiktas striker Cyle Larin, a proven scorer who made his name for Orlando City, and a deep cast of emerging MLS players in attack.
Keep an eye on Ayo Akinola and Tajon Buchanan, both of whom have played well for Toronto FC and the New England Revolution, as well as wing-back Richie Laryea, who will likely play opposite Davies in a 3-4-3. Canada will get a chance to take on the US in the group stage, and potentially make a deep run.
Can another team make a run?
Jamaica’s run to the final of this tournament in 2015 and 2017 provides hope that someone can end the Mexico-US Gold Cup reign. The most likely team to pull it off might be Canada. Costa Rica and Panama are experienced teams with World Cup histories, but they are getting older and lack the same level of attacking dynamism that they’ve had in the past.
Honduras will be a tough-to-break-down 4-4-2 team, with Alberth Elis rampaging up top. Jamaica has Leon Bailey, who is coming off a productive Bundesliga season, but might need another heroic performance from goalkeeper Andre Blake to go far.
Qatar is a wild card. They won the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, which is a pretty big achievement, but they also finished last in their group in the 2019 Copa America. They appear to be a defensively solid team with a familiar group of players — most of them have high numbers of caps, and they all play in the Qatar Stars League. Winger Akram Afif is highly-touted, and was the 2019 Asian Player of the Year.
The US’s chances
As usual, the US enter as one of the favorites, despite a weakened roster. They still have the talent to win a trophy, with Daryl Dike fighting for goals up top and Matt Turner saving everything. It will be interesting to see how their group of center midfielders fares, particularly against tougher competition. Eryk Williamson could see starter minutes, and Gianluca Busio will appear as a deep-lying playmaker.
The tournament is a good audition for some players, and also a great chance to win a second trophy of the summer.
WHERE TO BET THE 2021 GOLD CUP IN THE US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in more than two dozen states. You can bet online in some states, but only in-person betting is allowed in most of them.
DraftKings Sportsbook is available in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
FanDuel Sportsbook is available in Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.