So who’s in Group B?
United States (H)
When do they play?
Saturday, July 8th – Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
USA v Panama
Martinique v Nicaragua
Wednesday, July 12th – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Panama v Nicaragua
USA v Martinique
Saturday, July 15th – FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH
Panama v Martinique
USA v Nicaragua
The USA is the favorite to win the group and finish a disappointing fourth in their third straight summer international tournament. The team is loaded up with domestic talent and expect Arena to swap out fringe players for the likes of Pulisic, Dempsey, and Altidore in the Knockout Round. The most important thing to watch for, if you are a USA fan, is who can work their way into conversation for the 2018 World Cup squad.
Panama is the one team that actually has a chance at taking it to the USA. They are on their last legs though, and this is probably their last shot with this group of players to make a run. Look for stout, physical defense from the Canaleros and a quick counterattack. Nicaragua is very young and like much of the rest of CONCACAF, save the US, Canada, and Mexico. The squad is built to park the bus and try to get one against the run of play. Martinique, well, they’re just happy to be here.
Who to watch?
USA – Well pick your poison. In the knockout rounds this will be a slightly different side as I expect Jesse Gonzalez gets cap-tied and we see the like of Dempsey, Altidore, and Pulisic. Kellyn Acosta seems to have secured his place in Russia next year. Dax McCarty and Dom Dwyer are hoping to play themselves into contention for spots in Russia, as well. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the injury to Kenny Saief against Ghana last Saturday. Lots of American fans were excited to see what the former Israeli international could provide to the US midfield.
Panama – This is probably the end of the road for Canaleros forwards Blas Perez and Luis Tejada. I have always hated Blas Perez who somehow manages to always be a thorn in the USA side.
Martinique – Les Matinino got drawn into a tough group with both the US and Panama, not to mention a Nicaraguan sqaud that seems to be on the upswing. If there is one player to watch for Martinique and if you are an MLS fan is Jordy Delem. Delem has been getting fill-in minutes for the Sounders and acquitted himself quite well, but the Sounders might be looking to clear some space for a difference maker up top and Delem could fetch something during the upcoming transfer window.
Nicaragua – The key player for Nicaragua is captain and midfielder Juan Barrera. He singlehandedly willed them into the Gold Cup with a 3-0 win over Haiti in the last qualifier. The Nicaraguan side is young and if they are able to handle Martinique they could slide into the Knockout Round.
What’s the best game to watch?
Obviously USA v Panama in Nashville will determine first and second in the group, but Panama v Nicaragua might be the most exciting match. Panama will be in all out attack mode, especially if they drop points in their match with the US and Nicaragua will be looking to potentially grab second place, even more so if they take care of business against Martinique on Saturday.
So how will it play out?
USA wins the group, Panama gets a scare from Nicaragua but manages to grab a late equalizer to finish second. I think Nicaragua grabs four points in the group and makes the knockout round.