GOLD CUP PRIMER: Everything you NEED to know about the CanMNT's tournament
There’s one guarantee in the soccer world these days: Things move quickly.
The sting of their defeat to the US in the Concacaf Nations League finals may still be fresh in the mind for the CanMNT, but they must now put that behind them as they ramp up preparations for the Gold Cup, which is rapidly approaching here.
With the preliminary round of the tournament already finished, Canada now also knows the fourth and final member of their group, as Guadeloupe defeated Guyana 2-0 this week to join Canada, Guatemala and Cuba in Group D for the round-robin of this 16-team tournament.
Having also announced their squad for this tournament just days ago, where they elected to bring a mix of key regulars, veterans and young players, Canada enters this tournament with high expectations as they look to win their second-ever Gold Cup.
This tournament may represent a chance to integrate some new faces into their team, no doubt, but it’s also a chance for a trophy, something that has eluded this team ever since they lifted that first Gold Cup back in 2000.
Therefore, with Canada set to kick off their Gold Cup journey with a clash against Guadeloupe on Tuesday, June 27th at Toronto’s BMO Field, here’s everything you need to know about Canada’s quest towards glory in this tournament.
Canada looking to balance a trophy shot with future goals
There’s no doubt that Canada enters this tournament in a bit of an interesting spot.
Unlike the Nations League, where the goal was to win a trophy at all costs, the mission is a bit different for the Gold Cup.
Winning it all is the goal, but this is also a key chance for some new players to step up and get integrated into the National Team fold, too.
Canada announce squad for 2023 Concacaf @GoldCup 🍁— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) June 19, 2023
Canada will open the tournament on Tuesday, June 27th in Toronto against the winner of a Guadeloupe-Guyana Preliminary Round match.
TICKETS 🎫: https://t.co/EXmmHEX0r5#CANMNT x @CIBC pic.twitter.com/Cd3nO8g4hG
Because of that, it led John Herdman to call in a different squad than what most are used to seeing. Key regulars Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Ismaël Koné, Tajon Buchanan, Alistair Johnston and Cyle Larin are all out, leading to the insertion of several new faces, including first-time call-ups Zac McGraw, Ali Ahmed and Jacen Russell-Rowe.
Along with some players who have been in past camps, but have made two or fewer appearances, such Tom McGill, Dayne St.Clair, Dominick Zator, Moïse Bombito and Victor Loturi, there are several players who will look to use this tournament as an opportunity to become key regulars for Canada.
Despite all of those new faces, however, there are also some key veterans that have also been called in to join them, too. Richie Laryea leads the way in that regard given that he’s one of Canada’s most important players, and is joined by other key Canadian regulars such as Jonathan Osorio, Junior Hoilett, Milan Borjan, Steven Vitória, Kamal Miller and Lucas Cavallini. While Stephen Eustaquio and Sam Adekugbe were initially named to the squad, they had since dropped out, replaced by Liam Fraser and Jayden Nelson.
A varied mix of players makes it interesting to see how Herdman will manage this squad, as he has the option to either lean on more of his veteran players or play the kids, or some mix of the two.
And based on the last time that Canada played in the Gold Cup, it looks like Canada will lean on the last option. Therefore, expect guys like Laryea and Osorio to be joined by the likes of McGraw, Bombito, Russell-Rowe, Ahmed and St.Clair on the pitch together in these games.
Through that, it’ll allow Canada to still push to win the tournament while building up their player pool, allowing them to see who could potentially join the team’s core and help tweak Canada’s tactical identity.
It worked a charm at the 2021 Gold Cup, in which Canada had their best tournament in over 14 years and just missed out on the final, while also getting a good look at some newer players that ended up being crucial over the course of World Cup qualifiers for the next year, such as Tajon Buchanan, Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller and many more.
UPDATE: Canada announced an update to their squad before the opening game, as Stephen Eustáquio and Sam Adekugbe were ruled out due to injury, and replaced by Jayden Nelson and Liam Fraser.
What to make of light Group D?
If Canada are to win it all, however, that all starts with a good performance in the group stages.
And there, Canada did get quite fortunate with the draw. Placed in pot 1 after climbing up the rankings over the past few years, Canada certainly got placed in what could be best described as the tournament’s “group of life”.
It's official: The #CanMNT will kick off their 2023 Gold Cup campaign against Guadeloupe 🇬🇵 at BMO Field on Tuesday, June 27th— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) June 20, 2023
Guadeloupe defeated Guyana 2-0 today in preliminary round game #7 to book their spot in the Gold Cup
That also finalizes Group D of the GC:
Guatemala was the lowest-ranked team in Pot 2, while Cuba was the second-lowest ranked team in Pot 3 at the time of the draw, but given that the lowest team, Nicaragua, has since been kicked out of the tournament and replaced Trinidad & Tobago due to eligibility issues, it’s worth noting that change now makes Cuba the lowest ranked Pot 3 team, too.
Then, in terms of a Pot 4 team, Canada got probably the best option, preliminary round winner 7, which ended up being Guadeloupe, as they avoided guest invitee Qatar, and possibilities that included Suriname or Curaçao.
Plus, they ended up in the only group with only one team that made the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying (Canada), as two of the other groups had two, and one group had three.
Safe to say, Canada has gotten a pretty easy group on paper, which is why they’re runaway favourites to finish first here.
At the same time, it doesn’t mean that this group is filled with pushovers, either. Three plucky teams, they’ll look to frustrate Canada, buoyed with the belief that they can make the knockout stages given how this group looks.
With that in mind, however, here’s a quick look at what to expect from each team, placed in the order in which Canada will play them.
- Concacaf ranking: 19th
- FIFA ranking: N/A
- Gold Cup participation: #5
- Best Gold Cup finish: 4th (2007)
- Head coach: Jocelyn Angloma
Kicking things off for Canada is Guadeloupe, who are set to visit BMO Field for Canada’s tournament opener on Tuesday, June 27th.
Just days removed from qualifying for this tournament, it’s a stiff test for Guadeloupe, especially given that this is just the second-ever game that Canada has hosted in the Gold Cup.
Despite that, Guadeloupe will be in good spirits, as they did well to punch their ticket to this tournament over the last week.
After qualifying for the preliminary round of the Gold Cup as one of the League B runner-ups, they did well to dispatch fellow League B runner-up Antigua and Barbuda 5-0 in the first round, before dispatching another League B runner-up in Guyana 2-0 to book their ticket here.
As a result, they’ve done to avenge a mixed Nations League campaign. One that started well, as they beat eventual group winners Cuba 2-1 in their first game, Guadeloupe then ended up losing both of their games to Antigua and Barbuda 1-0.
With Cuba then going undefeated in their last five games, including a 1-0 win over Guadeloupe in their last game, that left Guadeloupe unable to achieve promotion to League A (and automatic qualification to the Gold Cup).
Therefore, they enter this tournament hungry for revenge. Especially as they get a second crack at Cuba, as well as a Guatemala side that was actually promoted from League B to A with a worse record than Cuba, Guadeloupe will fancy their chances at advancing.
A tactical flexible team, one that actually employed five different formations for their six Nations League games, they’ll be expected to defend well, given that they’ve only allowed five goals in their last eight competitive matches.
Offensively, they’ve been a bit more all over the map, but as seen in their games against Cuba, they’re comfortable ceding possession, eager to try and hit on the counter-attack and on set-pieces.
Plus, they’ve got some intriguing players to watch out for in their squad.
In goal, Davy Rouyard is on the books at Ligue 2 side Bordeaux, although he’s only made one appearance with the club, while veteran defender Cédric Avinel was on freshly-relegated Ligue 1 side Ajaccio, with whom he made 26 appearances (all competitions) this season, and is a veteran of over 300 Ligue 2 games.
Also joining the pair at the back is Avinel’s fellow club teammate, Mickaël Alphonse, who made 28 appearances (all competitions) for Ajaccio, while former Inter Milan academy graduate Andreaw Gravillon made seven appearances for Serie A side Torino, and has over 70 appearances in Ligue 1 and Serie A to his name.
Then, up front, Matthias Phaëton and Jordan Tell were at Ligue 2 side Grenoble, where Tell had seven goals and three assists in all competitions, while Phaëton had 10 goals and four assists. Along with Thierry Ambrose, who scored eight goals and added four assists for KV Oostende in the Belgian top flight despite getting relegated, and that’s a decent group to watch out for.
Depth will certainly be a concern for Guadeloupe, and they lack experience as a team together, but it’s an intriguing team, one that could frustrate Canada if all goes to plan for them.
- Concacaf ranking: 8th
- FIFA ranking: 116th (12th in Concacaf)
- Gold Cup participation: #12 (#20 including Concacaf Championships)
- Best Gold Cup finish: 4th place for Gold Cup (1996), 1st place for Concacaf Championships (1967)
- Head coach: Luis Fernando Tena
Once upon a time, Guatemala were a team that always found a way to make themselves known in Concacaf. Especially in the 2000s, they were constantly among the final teams in World Cup qualification, even if they’ve never made a World Cup, and always did well to push in the Gold Cup, even reaching the quarter-finals in 2007 and 2011.
But then, things went dark, as a corruption scandal rocked the team in 2016, which saw them banned from two Gold Cups and from the original Nations League qualifiers, sending them to League C for the inaugural edition.
Therefore, this Guatemala team isn’t just pushing to return to the past heights of the 2000s, they’re trying to show their image as a rebuilt federation.
And so far, they’ve done well. Thanks to back-to-back promotions, they’ll now play in Nations League A this fall, and this is their second-straight qualification for the Gold Cup.
Plus, they’ve really hit their stride as of late. For most of their recent League B campaign, it looked like promotion was going to go to French Guiana after Guatemala started with a record of 1W-1D-1L, but then Guatemala rattled off three straight wins, including a 4-0 thumping of French Guiana, to earn promotion (and automatic qualification to this tournament).
Not only that, but they’ve done well to build an identity as a team once again, too. Usually set up in a 4-4-2 or a similar iteration of that, they’re a team that does well to sit back and defend, while playing a bit more direct on the counter.
Having done well to schedule a whole host of friendlies over the last year, Guatemala is battle-tested, too, having played Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and Colombia in the last 12 months alone, which means they shouldn’t be surprised by the jump from the level of League B to that of Canada’s.
As seen in those friendlies, Guatemala will sit back, cede possession and try to hit on the break and on set pieces, with corners proving to be a particularly successful avenue for success for them in terms of chance generation.
In terms of their squad, they’re a team that’s got a lot of chemistry, which is helped by the fact that they’ve got an impressive 16 players who play in Guatemala, headlined by midfielder Rodrigo Saravia, defender José Carlo Pinto, and forward Darwin Lom (who leads this team in active Guatemala goals with 10).
Then, they’ve also got a small but intriguing group of players who play outside of the country. Goalkeeper Ricardo Jérez is the team’s most-capped player and plays in the USL for the Chattanooga Red Wolves, while forward Rubio Rubin (Real Salt Lake) and wing back Aaron Herrera (CF Montréal) are two ex-US youth and senior internationals who recently made the switch to Guatemala.
Lastly, they’ve also recently secured an intriguing dual-national in ex-England youth international Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who just played 51 games for EFL League 1 side Derby County, and has experience in the Premier League and the Championship.
Therefore, while this Guatemala side might not be one that will try to wow with anything flashy, they’re a very organized unit, and have players that can do some damage in the right moments, which will make them a decent test for Canada on July 1st in Houston.
- Concacaf ranking: 13th
- FIFA ranking: 165th (18th in Concacaf)
- Gold Cup participation: #10 (#12 including Concacaf Championships)
- Best Gold Cup finish: 8th place for Gold Cup (2003, 2013, 2015), 4th place for Concacaf Championships
- Head coach: Pablo Elier Sánchez
Lastly, Canada will stay in Houston for a July 4th clash against Cuba.
A team they got well acquainted with in 2019 when they played them three times (twice in League A and once at the Gold Cup), this is their first meeting since then. Despite that, not a lot has changed for Cuba, as they’ve still got the same coach, Pablo Elier Sánchez, and just recently returned to League A after their relegation in 2019.
Not all has been rosy for them in Concacaf competition, however, as they did miss out on the 2021 Gold Cup after not being able to participate in the preliminary round as several of their players were denied visas to enter the US, so they enter this tournament hungry to make some noise.
And to do so, they come in after their solid Nations League campaign, where they did well to gain promotion by finishing with 15 out of 18 possible points, all thanks to that aforementioned five-game winning streak that followed their surprise opening day loss to Guadeloupe.
Plus, they also enter this tournament battle-tested, having recently played South American sides Chile and Uruguay in a pair of June friendlies. They lost those games 3-0 and 2-0, respectively, but they’ll hope that can prepare them for what’s to come in this competition.
Usually set up in a 4-4-2, they hold onto the ball much better than they did before, and generate way more of their chances via positional attacks than any other route. For example, against a World-Cup calibre side in Uruguay (albeit one not at full strength), Cuba still managed to generate seven shots from that method, and actually were able to hold 43% of possession and finished with 0.73 xG.
Therefore, while Canada will be expected to dominate possession in this matchup, this Cuba team can hold the ball better relative to the others in the group, who prefer to sit back and defend.
As for individuals, Cuba’s also done well to build a relatively solid crew of players, several of which play outside of Cuba, which has been a big development to see over the last few years.
At the back, ex CF Montréal defender Jorge Corrales, now of Tulsa in the USL, is a key leader who has 42 caps, and is supported by Yosel Piedra, who plays for San Carlos in the Costa Rican top flight. Along with Sandy Sánchez in goal, who played two of the three games Cuba played against Canada in 2019, there’s plenty of experience there.
Then, in the midfield, Aricheell Hernández is the captain, while up front, Maikel Reyes and Luis Paradela will be expected to score the goals.
Plus, it’s worth noting that this is a young team, as only three players are 30 or older, with 15 players sitting at 26 or younger, showing the project that Cuba is building.
Now, they’ll look to prove what they’re capable of in this Gold Cup, as they then build towards another Nations League A campaign and World Cup qualifiers over the next year or so.
Stiff tests to come in the knockout stages
Should Canada do as they’re expected and win this group, however, it’s worth noting that there is where the benefits of a weaker group will come to an end.
If they win, they’ll either have to play the second-best team in Group A, which has the defending champions, the US, and a Jamaican side that has brought six Premier League players, among other options.
Of course, they’ll get the team between the two that slipped up (or someone else if there are any upsets), but that’s a less-than-ideal proposition for a quarter-final matchup, as both the US and Jamaica are two of the tournament’s favourites.
Then, should Canada win that quarter-final, they’d face either the winners of Group B, expected to be a Mexico side that has brought a very strong team, or the runners-up of Group C, which is either a Costa Rica side that went to the World Cup or a Panama side on the rise in Concacaf.
Therefore, if Canada is to win this tournament, they’ll certainly be tested while doing so, forcing this side to more than earn their stripes along the way.
Of course, to be the best at a tournament, you usually have to beat the best, but Canada will likely have their hands full while doing so.
The good news? No better way for this squad to prove themselves, especially for some of the newer faces, which is why it’ll be fascinating to see how this tournament ends up playing out for Canada.