Costa Rica’s men’s national soccer team will seek to end nearly three decades of North American Gold Cup dominance as the 2019 tournament kicks off Saturday.
La Sele will host Nicaragua on Sunday, June 16 as part of Group B action. The top-two finishers from Costa Rica’s group — which also contains Bermuda and Haiti — will advance into the single-elimination quarterfinals.
No team outside North America has won a Gold Cup, with Mexico and the United States sharing all but one of the titles. The United States are reigning champions, though El Tri are the unquestionable favorites this year.
With the regional tournament fast-approaching, The Tico Times previews the 2019 Gold Cup.
Costa Rica in search of a goal-scorer
Gustavo Matosas has had a rocky start to his managerial tenure with La Sele. Since taking charge earlier this year, Costa Rica has gone 1-3 in four friendlies and has only scored once.
The lone victory was a 1-0 decision over Jamaica at the National Stadium in La Sabana, while the three losses all came on the road. While there’s no shame in away defeats to the United States or Peru, the lack of offensive creativity has become a concern.
Striker Mayron George has seen increasing playing time with La Sele following the 2018 World Cup, and that will likely continue at the Gold Cup. Costa Rica also has a dangerous option in Joel Campbell, and Álvaro Saborío was a surprise inclusion on the 23-player roster.
While the once-retired San Carleño won’t win many footraces, the veteran can be a reliable option for Costa Rica’s experienced midfield and provide a different attacking style than the speedy George and Campbell. Saborío earned the roster spot thanks to his club form; he led all players with 28 goals in the 2019 Clausura.
While focus will be on Costa Rica’s attack, La Sele will be without goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who asked not participate while his status at Real Madrid remains uncertain. That’s an unfortunate development for Costa Rica and also for a Gold Cup tournament that could use the star’s drawing power.
The favorites: Mexico eyes an eighth title
Mexico will also be without several stars at the Gold Cup, but that hasn’t stopped them from being labeled the tournament favorites. And for good reason, as El Tri’s recent matches include wins over Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Chile.
New manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino has a strong roster, though familiar names — including Carlos Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez — asked not to be included.
Expect to hear Raul Jimenez’s name called repeatedly throughout the tournament, as the Wolves striker will feature heavily in Mexico’s fast-tempo and dynamic attack.
Group A includes Mexico, Cuba, Canada and Martinique. For El Tri, anything other than finishing atop the group would be a surprise, and anything less than a Gold Cup championship would be a disappointment.
All eyes on the United States
The United States is facing serious questions ahead of the 2019 Gold Cup following home losses to Jamaica and Venezuela.
It’s hard not to overreact to the two friendlies, but manager Gregg Berhalter has asked supporters for patients. He’ll have veterans Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley at his disposal in the Gold Cup, and lineups should feature Christian Pulisic, the new Chelsea signing who can provide optimism for a soccer federation that desperately needs it.
The United States’ opening match against Guyana on Tuesday, June 18 presents an opportunity for an easy victory. But the competition will become significantly more difficult in fixtures against Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama, to close out Group D.
Tico Times prediction
With the benefit of hosting a Gold Cup match for the first time, Costa Rica should have little trouble finishing atop Group B.
Assuming La Sele does just that, they will face a tough quarterfinal — likely against Canada, Cuba or Martinique — and the possibility of a massive semifinal against Mexico on July 2 in Glendale, Ariz.
Pencil that date into your calendar, but expect Mexico to continue its Gold Cup dominance and lift the trophy at the end of the 2019 tournament.