Concacaf Gold Cup group stage takeaways: Reason for USMNT concern; Mexico’s trophy to lose?

The group stage is over at the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, and the stakes are getting higher now in the knockout round. Eight teams remain, and they’ll play in the quarterfinals this coming weekend with favorites Mexico and the United States looking to avoid upsets. Upsets were avoided in the group stage, with the most likely of teams getting through the first three matches. 

Here’s a look at the matchups for the quarterfinals and takeaways so far:

All times Eastern
Saturday, July 24
Qatar vs. El Salvador, 7:30 p.m. 
Mexico vs. Honduras, 10 p.m.

Sunday, July 25
Costa Rica vs. Canada, 7 p.m.
USA vs. Jamaica, 9:30 p.m. 

Reason for USMNT concern

We have to start with the United States, who went 3-0-0 in the group stage but look far from solid. They beat Haiti and Martinique, which they should do with their eyes closed, before getting by Canada 1-0. The truth is, two of the three wins (Canada and Haiti) were 1-0 wins that were very unconvincing from the red, white and blue. Part of the reason is the team’s talent, which is nowhere near the level to that of the Concacaf Nations League side, but also that this is a young group that is still continuing to learn to play with each other.

Though they are on a manageable side of the the bracket, facing El Salvador or Qatar if they get past Jamaica, it still wouldn’t be all that surprising to see this team slip up. It kind of feels like another match where they are unconvincing in attack could lead to penalty kicks, where anything can happen.

Still, for now, the expectation is to them to make the final and play Mexico. But when you just get one shot on goal against Canada and allow a team like Haiti to make you sweat, there are reasons to be concerned.

Watch out for El Salvador and Qatar

Don’t look now, but the two biggest surprises of the competition meet on Saturday in the quarters as El Salvador face Qatar. La Selecta haven’t been good in decades, with their qualification to the 1982 World Cup happening before any players on the team we even born. But former USMNT player Hugo Perez is the coach, and there is a renewed spirit, fight and belief in a team that has looked fairly sharp and gave Mexico some trouble. They are also into the final eight of Concacaf World Cup qualifying. 

On the other side, most would scoff at the national team of Qatar, but the truth is, they are quite good. The champions of Asia, Qatar are just over a year away from hosting the World Cup. Led by former Barcelona youth coach Felix Sanches Bas, they possess the ball well, have more skill than you might imagine and are a contender to make the final.

The match between these two should be quite physical and frantic, but it is setting up to the be one of the more entertaining ones of the cup.

Mexico’s trophy to lose?

Mexico, like the U.S., haven’t impressed but went 3-0-0 anyway. They have yet to concede a goal and have allowed just three shots on goal in four games, but they had their issues with El Salvador. Against Honduras, they could expect something similar. Anything but winning the final would be viewed as a failure, especially after what happened in the Nations League. 

As for the attack, they have to keep going and try not to tinker with much. While they have just four goals in three games, they have produced 63 shots in those three games. A little more conviction in the final third, and they’ll become the heavy favorites to win instead of just one of a few contenders.

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