Mexico begin the quest for their third consecutive Gold Cup title when they take on Panama Sunday evening in California.
El Tri have beaten the United States in each of the last two Gold Cup finals by a combined score of 9-2. This year will not come as easily, though. Mexico are entering the tournament on a rather poor run of form after getting bounced in the group stage of the Confederations Cup and struggling in World Cup qualifying.
As the Gold Cup is considered a minor tournament this year, many teams, Mexico included, have chosen to send weaker sides. It might take away from the quality of the tournament, but it should make things much more open in terms of competitive teams. Panama are one of those sides that could use this tournament to catapult themselves into the top five of World Cup qualification.
Here's a quick preview for this group stage fixture.
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
When: Sunday, July 7, at 8 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Soccer
Live Stream: Fox Soccer 2Go
Key Storyline to Watch: How Will El Tri Respond?
Jose Manuel de la Torre is a manager under fire at the moment. Although Mexico have the talent, the results aren't showing up on the pitch. The team has struggled massively at times in the final third. Fluidity has also been a problem, as the players have had issues stringing passes together in midfield.
If it was just a couple of friendlies and/or World Cup qualifying matches, it would be one thing. However, Mexico have put in too many bad performances for the problems to be an aberration.
The Confederations Cup was a great opportunity for El Tri to overcome their problems and get it all together, much like Brazil did. Instead, all of Jose Manuel de la Torre's tinkering was for naught, as Mexico left with only three points.
Having selected a radically different squad than the one he sent to Brazil, de la Torre has a chance to see some fresh faces who may be able to help out down the road.
Mexico Player to Watch: Marco Fabian
Marco Fabian has demonstrated a wealth of potential over the past couple of years, but it hasn't come together for him. Injuries and poor runs of form have conspired to deny Fabian a big-money move to Europe.
The Gold Cup is the perfect time for him to get his career back on track and establish himself as a major player for the national team. Only 23 years old, the striker is just now starting to enter the prime of his career.
Forward has been a bit of a trouble spot for El Tri. They've got Javier Hernandez, but nobody has really established himself as a solid partner up top. If Fabian can put in a couple of strong performances, he'll leave "Chepo" de la Torre with no choice but to include him on the "A" team.
Panama Player to Watch: Rolando Blackburn
Blas Perez will miss the opening match of the Gold Cup, as he has chosen to play for FC Dallas on the same day that Panama take on Mexico, per MLSSoccer.com's Matt Barbour.
That likely leaves Rolando Blackburn as the top striking option for Julio Dely Valdes.
Blackburn has scored 15 goals over the last two seasons for FK Senica in the Slovak Super Liga. He's also found the net three times for Panama in 12 appearances.
Perez leaves a big hole up top in his absence. He's scored 21 times in 51 appearances for Panama.
In Blackburn, Panama will have their best chance of getting on the board.
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