By Clemente Lisa – NEW YORK, NY (July 5, 2021) US Soccer Players – The 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup kicks off Friday as the Euros and Copa America prepare to crown a champion. It comes just over a month after the United States dramatically defeated Mexico and won the first Concacaf Nations League. Now it is the turn of the Gold Cup to crown a regional winner. The 16th edition of the tournament runs from July 10th to August 1st. At this Gold Cup, the VAR and the host country Qatar will compete as part of Group D for the first time.

The 16-person team has not yet been determined. Three nations will reach the actual tournament on Tuesday after the qualifying round started last Friday in Florida at the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. One of these three teams will be placed in Group B and will join the United States, Canada and Martinique. The United States has won the Gold Cup six times, most recently in 2017.

“Our priority is to win the Gold Cup. Every time we fight for a trophy, we want to win it, ”said US coach Gregg Berhalter last week after the announcement of the 23-man squad. “It will take a good group effort, but it is certainly a focus of ours. We know the games are going to be tough and when we looked at the line-up for this tournament we focused on guys who are in shape and can help the team win.

Mexico, the defending champions and repeat favorites, are in Group A, along with El Salvador, Curacao and a team yet to be determined this week. There are a lot of questions out there as the teams prepare to enter the tournament. Here are three things to look out for in this year’s Gold Cup.

USMNT shows its depth

At two tournaments this summer, Berhalter has the rare chance to see what he has in his talent pool in a competitive environment. The Nations League made the first team line-up shine. The Gold Cup will be an opportunity to test MLS-based talent hoping for regular callings when World Cup qualification begins in the international window in September.

Berhalter’s 23-man roster includes 19 MLS players to give most of the team’s European players a much-needed rest before the national season begins again. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan is the most-appeared player in this squad with 64 appearances. The Atlanta United goalkeeper provides stability in the back, especially with a relatively young defense. Kellyn Acosta from Colorado Rapids, who could play alongside Gianluca Busio, plays in midfield. In attack, Gyasi Zardes and Daryl Dike could form a formidable attack with DC United’s Paul Arriola in the role of playmaker.

Canada seems to be shining

The Canadians have 13 MLS-based players, but it’s some of their overseas stars that make this team stand out. Bayern Munich left-back Alphonso Davies returns for another Gold Cup. Former Orlando City striker Cyle Larin, who is now with Besiktas in Turkey, also made it into the final squad. The 11 players who made their tournament debut include Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola, who joined the squad after the Detroit-born forward decided to represent Canada on the senior team. Canada are aiming for a strong tournament after beating Haiti 4-0 aggregate in World Cup qualifiers.

Moving into the final qualifying round for the first time since 1997 is an important step for the program. Canada only qualified for one World Cup in 1986. In 2000 they won the Gold Cup. With a team of first choice, this is an opportunity to show that you are a candidate. For individual players, it’s also a chance to prove that some of Concacaf’s elite wear Canadian colors.

Qatar gets games that matter

The hosts of the 2022 World Cup will take part in the Gold Cup as an invited team. CONMEBOL originally invited them to the Copa America, but that tournament was held with no visiting teams. Qatar’s participation is part of a partnership between Concacaf, the Qatar Football Association, and the 2022 World Cup host committee. Qatar took part in the Copa America in 2019, where they couldn’t leave the group stage. The Gold Cup will give them more tournament experience before next year.

It’s an interesting situation for any World Cup host as a lack of competitive games can lead to problems in the development of a squad. This is especially true for an up-and-coming team like that of Qatar. The obvious answer is to get games where they can, especially against Group A teams in qualifying for the European Championship.

At the Gold Cup they play games that count in Group D with Honduras, Panama and Grenada. It is not the first time that the Gold Cup has invited nations outside the region. Brazil, Colombia, Peru and South Korea have all played in the Gold Cup. Brazil finished second twice, and Colombia were the team to beat Canada for that title in 2000. It will be interesting to see what Qatar is like.

This is yet another Gold Cup with multiple engaging storylines. In a summer of football, the USMNT is back in the spotlight. This time around, it’s about MLS players stepping up and finding roles before the focus shifts to World Cup qualifying.

Clemente Lisi writes regularly for US soccer players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.

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