Saturday, June 16, 2007

Gold Cup Quarterfinals Previews and Predictions

At long last the Concacaf Gold Cup is at the knockout phase is here. The eight teams playing this weekend are a great mix of what Concacaf has to offer. We have the regulars (USA, Mexico, Costa Rica), the up and comers (Canada, Honduras) and a little surprise (Guadeloupe). None of these games look like blowouts in the making so we should be in for a great couple days of soccer.

Panama vs. USA
Saturday - 4pmET/1pm PT - Foxborough, Mass
TV: Fox Soccer Channel (English), Envision (Spanish)
Panama learned something against Mexico that I think they will use against the US, attack, attack, attack. Just sitting back and waiting for the pain is not a way to win a match against a big team because if you give them enough chances, they are going to beat you. Even with Panama missing some key players (including their captain Rolando Escobar), they have some strong skills in the midfield and some keen eyes on the attack. Also, they know how to beat defenders on the run thus either getting a shot or forcing a foul. The one weakness in their game is their backline as they often miss their marks.

The US will need a great day in the midfield to disrupt the Panamanian service, but they will also need their defense to stay close without over reaching. The US has given away some dangerous fouls in their final third, but has not yet paid for it. If they give Panama a few of those, it will be a long day for the Nats.

The offense for the red, white and blue is coming together. They still don't make the best use out of the set pieces (I think they only have one goal from a set piece so far), which could become a big factor if Panama does decide to bunker down, but they are getting better at setting each other up during the actual run of play. That said, the last game saw a number of good balls sent in by Beasley, but too often their were either not enough US players in the box or they were not in the correct position to connect.

Predicted lineup:
GK: Howard
D: Bornstein, Parkhurst, DeMerit, Simek
M: Beasley, Clark, Feilhaber, Ralston
F: Donovan, Dempsey
I would not start Gooch because he is riding a yellow card and Panama seems like a team that could easily get him another card. Also, I would go with Clark instead of Bradley in the middle because he pushes the ball forward better.

Predictions: Me Panama 0-2 US, Wife Panama 1-2 US

Canada vs. Guatemala
Saturday - 1pm ET/10am PT - Foxborough, Mass
TV: Telefutra (Spanish)
There will be two very different styles of soccer on display in this one as Canada likes to play wide-open games while Guatemala does everything they can do to stop a soccer match from actually taking place. There is talent on Guatemala's team, but their bunker and foul while Carlos Ruiz takes a dive routine wastes it.

Talking about Ruiz, he is really the only offensive threat his side has, so if Canada control him and don't get frustrated by his total disrespect for the game he plays, they should be in good shape. However, Ruiz has this way of sneaking into space and pushing defenders off him. If he gets a ref who turns a blind eye to these sorts of things, he will cause some problems.

The Maple Leafs will need a great day from their double De's in the middle. DeGuzman and DeRosario will need to control the flow and prevent Guatemala from stopping every play at the half way line. Also, Canada's biggest weakness might end up coming in handy during this match. Many of their first touches are weak and often result in the ball getting away from players for a moment. Since Guatemala usually kneecaps players on their first touch, they might end up getting cards because the ball will not be there to provide an excuse for this fouls.

This one will get physical, but if Canada says calm, they will advance.
Prediction: Me Canada 1-0 Guatemala, Wife Canada 2-1 Guatemala

Honduras vs. Guadeloupe
Sunday 3pm ET/12pm PT - Houston, Tx
TV: Telefutra (Spanish)
Los Catrachos has got to be feeling great about their chances in this one. Guadeloupe had a wonderful first match, got a little lucky in the second and fell flat in their third as the team started looking exhausted. The one bit of good news is they have had five days off so they should be in a better place, but their depth is still lacking. To pull out a shock result, they will need to control the attacking duo of Carlos Pavón and Carlos Costly but I haven't seen anything in their defense that suggests such a result is possible.

It is always fun to cheer for the little guy and Guadeloupe, with a population of about 400,000, is the littlest of all, but sadly, I think Sunday will see them get crushed.
Predictions: Honduras 3-1 Guadeloupe, Wife Honduras 1-2 Guadeloupe

Mexico vs. Costa Rica
Sunday 6pm ET/3pm PT - Houston, Tx
TV: Univision (Spanish)
This might just be the game that decides coach Hugo Sanchez’s future. El Tri has looked bad through all three of the group matches and is very lucky to not be facing the USA today. Since they have a very talented squad one must wonder why they are not doing better. That's where Hugo pops in.

Costa Rica has been third best team in Concacaf for a number of years now but their age is starting to show. The flair and speed on the ball is not what it once was so the question is do they have enough for one more run? Los Ticos has the benefit of a Mexican side in disarray and missing a couple starters due to card accumulation. However, they will also have to face Oswaldo Sanchez in goal.

If Mexico's backline continues their resent tradition of leaving huge holes open, Costa Rica will get some great chances, but they will have to place them just right because Sanchez might not have a lot of class, but he can stop just about anything except perfectly placed shots.

Mexico will probably find a way to pull this one out but I think there is going to be one upset this weekend and it will happen in Houston.
Prediction: Me Mexico 1-2 Costa Rica (in overtime), Wife Mexico 2-0 Costa Rica

The quarterfinal winners will advance to the semi-finals in Chicago on Thursday night. The winners from Foxborough will place each other followed by the winners from Houston.

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