Gold Cup 2011 Matchday 1 Review

Posted on June 9, 2011 2:23 am

Before we begin, I wanted to try and flesh out my criteria for choosing the Team and Goat in the “review” entries. The latter’s a bit easier to identify: unless a referee, a set of fans, a tv network or CONCACAF itself steals the “award” through incompetency, boorish behavior or unprofessionalism, the “Goat” wag of the finger will be directed at the team that most harmed its chances of advancing to the next round. Prior expectations also play a part; for instance [spoiler alert], as bad as Grenada’s pummeling at the hands of Jamaica looked, the neutral observer probably did not see them getting anything out of this match, so they’re spared this round’s [dis]honor. The “Team” award, then, will go to the team that most improved its chances of advancing, again relative to expectations. Finally, since CONCACAF competitions generally use head-to-head as the first tiebreaker, goal differential will not factor heavily in my decisions.

Now then, let’s get to it: the 2011 Gold Cup currently features the astonishing rate of 3.5 goals a game, with the first three matches all ending in blowouts. However, this round’s honor will go to a country that actually failed to score.

TEAM OF THE ROUND

Guatemala

The second match in Group B pitted the Central American champion against the team that barely edged out Nicaragua for fifth place at the Copa Centroamericana. The 2010 World Cup participant against a country that has never reached the Promised Land. A side featuring two midfielders of Premier League pedigree against a collection of MLS and local talent. Guatemala showed up to the Home Depot Center as the clear underdog.

The chapines threw out the script, however, dominating the first 45 minutes with their commitment to attack (even if Honduras had the better chances to score). In the second half, Guatemala lost their momentum but responded with a resolute defensive effort, decimating Honduras’s chances at goal and overcoming two red cards to snatch a 0-0 draw and one unexpected point. With Grenada still among their “remaining fixtures”, Guatemala suddenly has a realistic shot at second place – and avoiding an early showdown with one of the competition’s twin giants.

Fortunately they did that, or three of their players would have been in the front of the line for the “Goat” award – Henry Medina and Gustavo Cabrera for their red cards (although Cabrera’s was harsh – unlike, say, the one he got for trying to scalp Eddie Lewis with his elbow back in 2008) and Ricardo Jerez for a shocking dive that contributed to the five minutes of injury time. And I was strongly considering a nomination for Univision for failing to show the national anthems ahead of El Salvador-Mexico, Honduras-Guatemala and USA-Canada; worse, Pablo Ramirez and Jesus Bracamontes blatantly talked over the Salvadoran anthem before Univision cut to commercials.

But Cuba and El Salvador just had to go and make a mockery of my prediction that no team in Group A would be a soft touch. So, with whom do I go? The team that underwhelmed for 90 minutes (impaling itself on its own high off-side trap) or the one that went toe-to-toe with a much better opponent for 45, only to collapse in 20?

GOAT OF THE ROUND

El Salvador

After a first half in which El Salvador threatened to score first and held Mexico to only one real chance (the Guardado whiff), the cuscatlecos completely lost their composure after the break. After almost being gifted an own-goal, they allowed Mexico to press forward and attack at will. And if Efrain Juarez’s goal was lucky, Aldo de Nigris’s finish occurred thanks to the compliant Keystone Cops in front of Miguel Montes (hint: unless they’re playing for Brazil or Barcelona, center-backs are generally expected to clear the ball when under pressure). And worst of all, Marvin Gonzalez needlessly fouled “Chicharito” Hernandez at the end, getting himself sent off (Chicharito got his hat-trick anyways with the ensuing penalty) and earning a one-game suspension.

Fortunately, as I said before, head-to-head is the first tiebreaker in the Gold Cup, so all El Salvador have to do is beat Costa Rica and the quarterfinals once again become a realistic possibility. But that meltdown did a gross disservice to the competitive spirit they had shown up until then.

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