Ranking the eight remaining teams in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The cast of four true minnows at the 2017 Gold Cup all put up their own worthy fights, but each has been dispelled as we hit the quarterfinal stage. Curacao lost 2-0 three straight times, Martinique beat Nicaragua and only lost to the U.S. 3-2, while Nicaragua nabbed a goal against Panama and came close to preventing the U.S. from winning the group. French Guiana, finally, have been, um, active. They almost came back from a 3-0 deficit against Canada, then told CONCACAF to go screw itself and played an ineligible player against Honduras, forfeiting as a result.
Those four are not here to make everyone else look bad anymore. The tournament’s been narrowed to its eight most talented sides for the quarterfinals. Costa Rica face Panama at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the US play El Salvador at 9 p.m. ET the same night, Canada get Jamaica 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday and Mexico battle Honduras three hours later.
Today, we’re ranking those eight teams. Let’s get started.
8. El Salvador
Captained by San Jose Earthquakes defensive midfielder Darwin Ceren, El Salvador were pesky enough in Group C to steal points from Jamaica and qualify for the next round as one of the two best third-place teams. Playing Mexico in San Diego, not an easy thing to do, they allowed an early goal but stormed back and equalized at 1-1, forcing El Tri to hunker down and grind out a 3-1 result. They then did the job against Curacao and toughed out a 1-1 draw against Jamaica, assuring qualification.
Like many teams in the Gold Cup, Jamaica brought a younger, more experimental side to the States. They excluded longtime contributor Giles Barnes and have seen Atlanta United loanee striker Romario Williams fill the role admirably, and players like Damion Lowe and 20-year-old Kevon Lambert have received opportunities. It’s a transitional period for the Reggae Boyz, but they were able to nab a point from Mexico in the group stage and have a chance to knock out Canada in the quarters.
Los Catrachos have struggled a bit in what could be a statement tournament for them. In three games, they scored exactly zero goals, drew twice 0-0 and fell to Costa Rica, meaning they got only two points and finished third in the group, which should have allowed Martinique to slip into the quarters ahead of them. But their scoreless draw against French Guiana turned into a 3-0 win due to the Guianaians’ forfeit and they just were able to grab a spot, although they’ll have to face Mexico. Honduras are better than the way they’ve played.
They own the tournaments’ Golden Boot leader (16-year-old Alphonso Davies), and they’ve looked good in their three games, but Canada remain Canada, and so we shouldn’t expect too much from them. The Maple Leafs (is that their nickname?) are missing their best player, Cyle Larin, but could call him in as a reinforcement. They’ll face Jamaica in the quarterfinals, and they can only hope Davies keeps putting the ball in the net.
Do not make the mistake of underestimating Panama. They’ve now drawn the U.S. 1-1 each of the last four times they’ve played competitively, including in the group stage of this Gold Cup. Panama are organized, energetic and attack with a purpose, making them serious threats against any CONCACAF opponent. It’s very possible they knock off Costa Rica in the quarters and then challenge the U.S. in the semis.
Ranking Mexico this low is only a product of the fact they’re still sending B teams while Costa Rica are playing their A team and the U.S. just called up six usual starters. El Tri are not on a collision course with either of Los Ticos or the Americans, so they face an easier road to the final and looked in the group stage perfectly capable of breezing to Gold Cup trophy over a disconnected U.S. and a group of Central American B teams.
2. Costa Rica
Their A team is better than the U.S.’s B team — not by much, but when you struggle with Martinique you don’t get to be better than Costa Rica — but with the big guns arriving for the hosts, Costa Rica get demoted to number two. Los Ticos frustrate teams in their compact, organized 5-4-1 and allow their talented attackers to buzz around the attacking third and pick out space to create chances. They really should, in all honesty, win this tournament.
1. United States
They didn’t look great in their three group stage games, but remember they were playing B and C teams and experimented greatly with tactics and personnel. The point of that was not to beat up on Martinique and Nicaragua; rather, it was for Bruce Arena to sort out his player pool and try out ideas. A lot of it didn’t work. That’s fine. Now they will have six established players to come in and finish the job.