2011 Gold Cup: Group B preview
Head coach: Ever Hugo Almeida (Uruguay)
MLS connections: Marco Pappa (Chicago), Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia)
Gold Cup appearances: 8; fourth place in 1996
Los Chapines have been perennial Gold Cup lightweights, having reached the final four of the tournament just once in eight tries. Guatemala have traditionally had domestic talent with a few foreign-based stars. Ruiz has been the team’s top talent for more than a decade now but Pappa gives the team a successor to "El Pescadito." Both MLS stars will have to carry the load as Guatemala bring another domestic-heavy squad — though they’ll expect contributions from former Galaxy midfielder and MLS Cup 2005 hero Guillermo “Pando” Ramírez, who plays for Honduran club Motagua.
Head coach: Luis Fernando Suárez (Colombia)
MLS connections: Roger Espinoza (Sporting KC)
Gold Cup appearances: 9; runners-up in 1991
Honduras’ underdog status as burgeoning regional power came a bit undone when los Catrachos reached the 2010 World Cup. But Honduras can cement their status within CONCACAF with a strong showing in this Gold Cup. With seasoned stars such as Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas, they have the top-tier talent to take a step past their 2009 finish, when Honduras reached the semifinals.
Head coach: Theodore Whitmore (Jamaica)
MLS connections: Omar Cummings (Colorado), Ryan Johnson (San Jose), Tyrone Marshall (Colorado) Dane Richards (New York), Donovan Ricketts (LA Galaxy), Jermaine Taylor (Houston), Shavar Thomas (Sporting KC), Je-Vaughn Watson (Houston), Dicoy Williams (Toronto FC)
Gold Cup appearances: 7; tied for third place in 1993
Despite having had a wealth of talented MLS veterans on their rosters over the year, Jamaica have traditionally struggled both in both the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying. They’ve reached the Gold Cup semifinals just twice, the last time in 1998 — also the only time the Reggae Boyz have reached the World Cup. With MLS players such as Richards, Cummings and Ricketts, this current squad should be able to compete in the group stage.
Head coach: Mike Adams (Grenada)
MLS connections: Craig Rocastle (Sporting KC)
Gold Cup appearances: 1
The Spice Boys are certainly one of the tournament’s lightweights. In 2009, they reached the Gold Cup for the first time and lost all three of their group-stage games. Now, with Shalrie Joseph withdrawing, they’ll miss out on the creativity, defensive muscle and persistent work rate of their midfield linchpin. Grenada will have to lean on another dynamic MLS midfielder: Sporting KC’s Craig Rocastle, who will need to be a box-to-box influence. They will also rely on players such Leon Johnson of Wycombe Wanderers, promoted to England’s League One for next season, as well as Carolina RailHawks forward Kitson Bain.
Honduras are the odds-on favorite to come out of Group B, but los Catrachos will face an interesting and tough challenge right from the start. They’ll meet Guatemala in the opening match of the group stage at the Home Depot Center on June 6. The match should be played in front of a packed, energetic and divided crowd.
Jamaica should compete with Guatemala for the second spot, provided los Chapines don’t surprise Honduras in their opener. Jamaica should be better than their Caribbean rivals, but whether the Reggae Boyz can put things together and make the run many MLS fans may feel they are capable of could be what puts a stamp on this group and determines the group finish.