Gold Cup quarterfinal power rankings: Roster swaps, matchups alter pecking order
After a rather bland group stage (save for French Guiana brazenly taking us to a special place during its Florent Malouda saga), CONCACAF's Gold Cup is really set to begin.
The knockout stage features reinforcements, regional powers on a collision course to face one another and an overall intriguing path to the July 26 final at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Not every team has turned to its preliminary roster for new additions. Mexico has chosen to go on with the 23-man, experimental squad that won Group C, giving those players the chance to fight for a trophy while more established players remain at home. Conversely, the USA has used all six of its allotted roster swaps, calling in the likes of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Darlington Nagbe (and untested third goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez) in hopes of putting forth its strongest foot to win the title.
Taking into account new-look rosters, matchups and paths to the title (and the fact that no matter how talented Central American or Caribbean sides have been, there's a pure Mexican-American dominance over this competition), here's how the Gold Cup's final eight teams stack up entering Wednesday's opening quarterfinal matches:
2017 Gold Cup Quarterfinal Power Rankings
The Americans are going for it. Whereas manager Bruce Arena used the group stage to experiment and take a wide look down his roster at who could perform in a meaningful competition, the knockout stage will be purely for winning. That's pressure the veteran cast called in can handle. A potential semifinal against Costa Rica before a potential final against Mexico would represent the hardest possible path, though.
Mexico boldly will go forward with its current group of 23, which had an uneven group stage and certainly didn't overwhelm like Mexico teams in the past have in this competition. The matchup vs. Honduras and then having Jamaica or Canada in the semifinals bodes well for this young edition of El Tri, though.
Los Ticos still have plenty of talent on paper, but they offloaded a ton of it after the group stage. Joel Campbell, Christian Gamboa, Bryan Oviedo and Johan Venegas are all out for the knockout rounds, limiting the side's depth. Facing a tricky Panama side in the quarterfinals will be a test, and falling in the semifinals to the USA is a likely destiny, though anyone underestimating Costa Rica will pay dearly.
Led by 16-year-old Alphonso Davies, whose three goals are tied for the tournament lead, Canada fared well and didn't show any nerves on the same stage as Costa Rica in group play. Now with Cyle Larin in the fold for the knockout stage, the Canadians boast another goal-scoring threat and their best chance for their first run to the final since 2000.
The Reggae Boyz emerged as a true threat in 2015, ousting the USA in the semifinals before falling in the title match against Mexico, but they don't look like they're quite up for the same run this time around, with a more limited squad. Its matchup vs. Canada in the quarterfinals may well be the most intriguing one of the four, with dynamic attacking pieces on both sides. Can Darren Mattocks and Romario Williams do the heavy lifting against the tournament's top sides?
Los Canaleros have experimented plenty with their Gold Cup squad, leaving many established veterans behind, and it went well. They would have bested the USA to win the group if not for Matt Miazga's late goal vs. Nicaragua. They'll play anyone tight, but facing Costa Rica in the quarterfinals is a harsh reward for an overall impressive group showing.
El Salvador has seen the USA on this stage before, falling 5-1 in the 2013 quarterfinals in Baltimore. It did exactly what it was supposed to do in the group stage (Lose to Mexico, Draw Jamaica, Beat Curacao) and has made it about as far as you'd expect it would–but forward Rodolfo Zelaya will could pose issues for the USA's back line, which has had its weak moments and wasn't bolstered at all.
Los Catrachos wound up with a +2 goal differential...despite not scoring a single goal. Thanks to French Guiana's forfeit, which, by rule, gave Honduras a 3-0 win (despite them playing to a 0-0 draw), the Central American side has new life. Facing Mexico in Phoenix should spell the end of its run, though the addition of goal-scoring forward Antony Lozano should help the surprisingly anemic attack.