The 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup has just wrapped up its opening action of group play, but several teams have much to prove ahead of the knockout stage.
Group A's two losing teams in Mexico and Canada square off on Thursday essentially facing a must-win situation, while El Salvador is coming off of a disappointing tie with Trinidad and Tobago and have to bounce back against current Group B leader Honduras in the impending fixture.
Let's take a closer look at what went wrong for these respective countries' national teams in this tournament's infantry stages, and what can be done to remedy the early deficits.
Note: Complete results, most of which are mentioned in the analysis below, can be found via ESPNFC.com.
It simply does not look good for Canada, which was lucky to hang in a match against Martinique in which the underdogs dominated time of possession before finally notching the first and only goal in stoppage time.
When Fabrice Reuperne put in the decisive goal in the 92nd minute, the Canadians were truly behind the proverbial eight-ball. Canada's attack was hapless throughout, and unless 24-year-old Marcus Haber can muster some offense, it could be an early exit for his side.
Thankfully, the Mexican squad is a volatile bunch that should be the one to eventually win the group, but an opening loss to Panama changed that.
Colin Miller is already in a tough situation as Canada's interim manager, but if he can somehow rally his players to get a positive result against Mexico, team morale would be revived.
Most importantly, though, is that Haber, Tosaint Ricketts and Co. step up to generate scoring chances. As CanadaSoccer.com points out, two premier Canadian forwards in Simeon Jackson and Randy Edwini-Bonsu left camp, which puts Canada at a distinct disadvantage as it is.
The prospects of manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre's tenure are looking more dubious by the day, particularly after the aforementioned 2-1 defeat to Panama.
It will be Mexico's match to lose when it takes on Canada on Thursday in Seattle's CenturyLink Field, but that's precisely the type of pressure the club hasn't been able to live up to lately.
Unfortunately, El Tri's manager had objects hurled at him following the most recent setback:
A brilliant equalizer was set up by Israel Hernandez in the Panama match, when he lobbed a pass to Marco Fabian who corralled it using his chest and fired it past the defenseless goalkeeper.
However, that sort of magnificence has been too few and far between for Mexico, and de la Torre needs to find a way to reach his players. Another flat performance or failure to reach the knockout stage of this tournament could result in him being fired.
It's going to be difficult for El Salvador to advance since the squad let a 2-2 draw happen against Trinidad and Tobago, after Kenwyne Jones' 72nd-minute tying goal.
Which team is likeliest to advance to the knockout stage?
While the energetic upstarts will be spurred on by winning a point get to play Haiti next, El Salvador must take on Honduras. The good news is that Rodolfo Zelaya scored twice after El Salvador trailed 1-0 early in the contest, so the ability to bounce back has been showcased.
Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, will play host to this battle of Central American nations could be one-sided if the last friendly, won by Honduras 3-0, is any indication.
For El Salvador's sake, that hopefully won't be the case, and it has been over a year since the teams' last encounter.
A younger team like El Salvador can rise to the occasion on a stage like this when many players don't realize the magnitude of the games and are fearless simply because they don't know better.
If La Selecta is meant to move on to the next juncture of the Gold Cup, that will have to be the case against a strong Honduras club.