Bryan Ruiz, who played in the famous snow-bound game in Commerce, Colo. in 2013, will play in much warmer condititon at Red Bull Arena Friday. (Scott Bales/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Another odd-numbered year and another CONCACAF Gold Cup.
If you go by history, then you will put your money on a North American side to dancing and parading with the Gold Cup trophy at Levi’s Stadium July 26.
In the previous editions of the biennial competition, no Central American or Caribbean side has won the cup. In fact, just getting to the final would be considered an achievement in itself. Mexico has won seven Gold Cups, followed by the U.S.’s five championships and Canada’s one (yes, believe it or not, the Maple Leafs did win it all in 2000, but still is trying to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1986).
I would not be surprised if another nation is celebrating in 2 1/2 weeks time.
The United States and Mexico haven’t exactly loaded their respective rosters with A list players. El Tri used them en route to a fourth-place finish at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia and head coach Juan Carlos Osorio has decided to rest them between seasons and for when World Cup qualifying begins again in September.
Ditto for U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, who is resting many of his key players from Major League Soccer, Europe and Mexico, and instead is giving many players — from MLS — an opportunity to impress the coaching staff so they could be apart of qualifying when it resumes at Red Bull Arena against the Costa Ricans Sept. 1.
So these players will be auditioning for jobs and yes, they will be hungry. But they will not be the caliber of let’s say, Javier Hernandez (aka Chicharito) for El Tri or Christian Pulisic for the Americans.
So, that could open up an opportunity for another team.
The best bet?
First all, the Ticos are one of the three seeded teams. They should win Group A against the likes of Honduras, Canada and French Guiana and they have brought some pretty decent players (they open up their Gold Cup quest against the Hondurans at Red Bull Arena Friday at 9:30 p.m.).
Do the names Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell ring any bells for you? And they have enough fire power to do some damage.
Yes, it must be said the Costa Ricans haven’t brought many regulars — ie. Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, for one.
They are due for a Gold Cup championship. No, make that overdue. They are annually the best team in the region behind Mexico and the U.S. and you can make a case of them being the best in CONCACAF.
Not too shabby and quite remarkable for a country that has a population of 4.5 million (the U.S., incidentally, is at 330 million). Costa Rica has qualified for the World Cup three out of the past four times.
And let’s don’t forget that the Central Americans reached the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, staying alive longer than their two CONCACAF rivals.
Before he left to join his national team teammates, I asked New York City FC forward Rodney Wallace about the Ticos’ chances.
“I think we have a very good chance of winning the Gold Cup because we have a very good team,” he said. “The team knows how we play. We know our system and we have the confidence and ability to win this tournament.”
We should know by 11:30 p.m. Friday night if the Ticos can start on the right foot.