USA vs. Belize
Jurgen Klinsmann has brought an MLS heavy line-up to the Gold Cup, but there is still plenty of international flavor for his to choose from as well, including Portland Timbers' off season target Mix Diskerud.
The US is coming off a friendly 6-0 dismantling of Guatemala on Friday that saw the team get off to a slow start before shifting into a more attacking mindset and taking Guatemala apart. It was the introduction of Diskerud and Stuart Holden in to the center of the midfield for the more defensive pairing of Kyle Beckerman and Jose Francisco Torres. The switch sparked five more goals from the US, including two from Landon Donovan that put him at 51 goals for the USMNT, after going into the half with a 1-0 lead.
Players to watch for the US that Timbers fans may not have seen in person include famed Seattle and Don Garber antagonist, Hercules Gomez, and the versatile and dangerous Alejando Bedoya, one of the only national teamers whose contract runs out this summer. According to the usual silly season gossip, Bedoya has been courted throughout Europe, but as the holders of MLS's top allocation spot, Timbers fans will want to make a good impression.
Where the US is a mix of domestic and European based players, their opponents Belize are much less international in their player draw. The most represented club on the Belizian national team is Belize Defense Force followed by Police United, both members of the Premier League of Belize.
Despite the upset of Canada by Martinique yesterday, there is no reason the US should fall to Belize tomorrow. Where Martinique were an athletic team guided by several savvy veterans, including the Timbers' own Frederic Piquionne, and Canada continue to flounder in international football, Belize is an athletic team guided by significantly less pedigreed players and the US are, if anything, on the rise.
With a number of games in quick succession, Klinsmann may not use his first choice eleven for this one against the minnows of the group and, in light of the result against Guatemala, it is hard to say who the first choice eleven are regardless. Either way, look for plenty in the attack from the US as they look to put three points and a big goal differential on the table to kick off the Gold Cup.
Costa Rica vs. Cuba
Costa Rica takes on Cuba in the first match of the day, so if you are out of work by 5:30 make sure to get down to Jeld-Wen early to see Rodney Wallace do what he does best: terrorize his opponents on Costa Rica's left flank. The possibility of him sitting out, as he did in Costa Rica's recent World Cup Qualifying matches, is next to nil.
Like the US, Costa Rica has a strong domestic contingent as well as good representation from the European leagues as well. Norway and Sweden are the most popular destinations for Costa Rican players in Europe with four players plying their trade in Scandinavia. There are also representatives from Belgium, Germany, and a single South American based player out of Bolivia (midfielder Kenny Cunningham who plays for "The Strongest", which is the best club name in the world).
Costa Rica has been on the rise recently, moving up to 39th place in FIFA's worldwide rankings after their wins over Panama and Honduras as well as a tie in Mexico.
Cuba, on the other hand, is fielding an entirely domestically based squad who will be watched like hawks to make sure that they stay that way. Of course, their minders will not be the only ones watching the team as MLS coaches will certainly be keeping an eye out for the next defecting Oswaldo Alonso (or even Maykel Galindo, who was decent for Chivas during his years there).
Unfortunately for Cuba, this is another case of sharks against minnows and, although they have more of a chance than Belize does against the US, things are not looking good for them.
I am pretty darn excited to have the US playing in Portland, especially if we get to see some of the European based players that the Timbers will not come across in MLS play. The US and Costa Rica are both good bets to win and set a good pace to advance out of the group.