Do you remember where you were when Canada won the Gold Cup? That was 19 years ago. Chances are, some of you reading this weren’t even born when Canada lifted this trophy.
With Mexico not sending its “A” lineup, and the United States on a poor run of form having lost recent friendlies to Jamaica and Venezuela — and fail to score in the process – this year’s Gold Cup feels like it might be the most up-for-grabs edition of the tournament in a generation.
So, what does that mean for Canada? Can this country’s national side bring back the magic of 19 years ago?
First, we’ve got to focus on getting out of the group stage. Here’s who John Herdman’s side will be squaring off against:
CANADA vs. MARTINIQUE Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California Sat. June 15, 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT
Six years ago, Canada was stunned in its Gold Cup opener by Martinique. It shouldn’t happen again (we hope). Being a Canadian soccer follower means that pessimism and cynicism burn in your soul. Expecting the worst is what we do.
What do we know about Martinique? Well, there’s a good chance the Caribbean side won’t finish the game with 11 men on the pitch. In Nations League qualifying, Martinique led all teams in yellow cards, with nine accumulated over four matches. And, in two of the four Nations League qualifiers played, a Martinique player was sent off.
Still, that didn’t stop the team from a perfect run through the qualifiers, which earned it a spot in the “A” section of the CONCACAF Nations League.
Who does Canada need to stop? Striker Kevin Parsemain. The former Seattle Sounders trialist — who likely would have got an MLS contract had he not suffered a knee injury — scored four goals in four Nations League qualifiers, and has four career Gold Cup goals in six appearances. He’s even scored against the United States, so it’s not like he disappears if his team is facing stiffer competition.
But, knowing Martinique’s propensity for yellow and red cards, the biggest challenge for Canada may be to leave Los Angeles with a healthy roster.
CANADA vs MEXICO Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver, Colorado Wed. June 19, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
The question isn’t who is on Mexico’s roster — it’s who decided not to make the trip to the United States, whether it’s due to injuries or personal reasons or differences with coach Tata Martino.
So, there’s no Carlos Vela or Chicharito Hernandez to lead the line. No Hirving Lozano to plague oppositions down the wing. No Miguel Layun at fullback.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s still Mexico. Getting even El Tri’s “C” or “D” selection is going to be a tough slog for any opponents. And the players who will be making the trip will want to prove to Martino that they deserve to be in the mix for Nations League and World Cup qualifiers ahead of 2022.
Canada will need to focus on the threat posed by Los Angeles Galaxy veteran Jonathan Dos Santos out of midfield; Martino has hinted he’s been Mexico’s best player in the pre-Gold Cup camp. And striker Raul Jimenez, who has been loaned out to Wolves by Benfica, will get his chance to shine in the green Mexico shirt. Considering he scored 13 goals in the Premier League this past season, he’s some replacement for Chicharito, huh?
The fact that Canada will have to face Mexico at altitude only increases the odds in El Tri’s favour.
CANADA vs CUBA Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina Sun. June 23, 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT
OK, let’s get the defection jokes out of the way off the bat. What’s the over/under on the number of days at the Gold Cup before Cuba “loses” a player, in the literal sense? You’re never sure with Cuba — as we’ve seen this national side sometimes struggle to put together an 11-man unit in past tournaments.
But Cuba will face Canada not only in the Gold Cup, but in the Nations League group stage. In Nations League qualifying, the Cubans won their first three games handily — albeit against Caribbean opponents you’d expect them to handle. They lost 2-1 to Haiti on the final match-day, but did enough in the first three matches to qualify into the top flight of the Nations League. Leading the way was forward Luis Paradela, who bagged five goals over four Nations League qualifiers.
Cuba may come into this game with very little to lose. With the likes of Paradela and fellow forward Yordan Santa Cruz pacing the attack, those who might expect Cuba to sit back and soak up pressure may be surprised.
That’s if everyone in a Cuban shirt makes it to game three of the group stage. But, on paper, and based on Nations League qualifiers, Cuba looks to be the weakest of the three opponents Canada will face in the group stage.