The Gold Cup is CONCACAF’s crowning jewel, a tight and focused tournament taking place every two years in order to see who has the best team in the federation (hint: it’s almost always Mexico or the US). The 2017 edition will be no different this summer, as it will not only be a hard-fought tournament in its own right but also a tune-up to next year’s World Cup. And so, in preparation, the draw for the group stage was announced on Tuesday, and there are some great matches coming when action kicks off in July.
In group A, traditionally strong nations Honduras and Costa Rica will be joined by Canada and French Guiana in what is on paper the weakest group but possibly the most even of the bunch. Group B will feature the most exciting matchup of the group stage, as the United States will try to avenge their 2015 third-place match penalty shootout loss to Panama. Joining them in the second group are surprising qualifiers Martinique, and the winner of a Nicaragua/Haiti play-in game. Finally, Group C has the overwhelming favorites and winners of 3 of the last 4 Gold Cups, Mexico, facing off against El Salvador, Curacao, and 2015 shock finalists Jamaica.
Barring some unexpected upset on the level of that Jamaica squad’s toppling of the US, however, all road still appear to lead to the battle that has come to define CONCACAF soccer. The two most recent chapters of the US/Mexico rivalry have gone to Mexico, including the thriller in Pasadena for the 2015 CONCACAF Cup, but that was against a different USMNT, under a different leader. New manager Bruce Arena will be looking to take the Gold Cup crown on home soil as a way to launch into the run-in for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a World Cup that the US is currently not a lock to qualify for.
That the two countries will most likely end up on opposite sides of the knockout bracket will only heighten the drama on the road to Santa Clara on July 26 for the final; that any of the other 10 teams could play spoiler before then only adds to the excitement.