Once again the 2013 Gold Cup delivered.
Many football supporters are bemoaning the death of international football at the hands of the Champions League. Following in the footsteps of the 2013 Confederations Cup, the Gold Cup has delivered some captivating football.
While not the highest level you're going to see, this tournament has been a good mix of excitement and drama. Just when you think that you've wasted your time watching a match, something happens that makes it all worth it.
Friday ran the gamut in terms of a football fan. You had just about everything you could have asked for as Haiti took on Trinidad and Tobago in the first match, and Honduras and El Salvador renewed their rivalry in the second match.
Here are quick recaps of Friday's matches.
Haiti 2, Trinidad and Tobago 0
Haiti looked very good against Honduras in the 2-0 win that kicked off their Gold Cup campaign. If the finishing would improve, this would be a dangerous team.
Well, Trinidad and Tobago saw exactly what can happen when Haiti finishes off their attacks. Haiti picked up three key points in a 2-0 victory.
NFL wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who is of Haitian descent, made his allegiance known before the match:
With the attacking talent on Trinidad and Tobago, you would have favored them to get on the board first. Instead, it was Haiti, who scored in the 16th minute.
Les Grenadiers were putting a lot of pressure on Trinidad and Tobago early. They carried over their form from Honduras and didn't manage to lose a step. With the way they couldn't finish in that match, you wondered if Haiti might play a little tight in the final third, trying too hard to score a goal.
In the 16th minute, Jean-Eudes Maurice put Haiti up 1-0 to erase whatever anxiety their players were carrying into the game. It was a solid move from the squad, as Jean Monuma had a long-range effort on goal saved by Jan-Michael Williams. Unfortunately for Trinidad and Tobago, Williams knocked the ball right in the path of Maurice, who finished off the rebound.
It was a really poor effort from Williams, who didn't do enough to knock the ball out of danger. Then he didn't react quickly enough to do anything to save Maurice's shot. Give credit to the forward, though, as he did react and didn't try to do too much with the finish.
You can see the goal below, courtesy of Fox Soccer's Twitter account:
GOAL: Maurice grabs Haiti's first goal of the Gold Cup. Watch: - http://t.co/ZnJcQNstWb— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 12, 2013
Keon Daniel very nearly equalized for T&T two minutes later, but his header went just wide to the right.
Haiti really looked to have found a comfort zone after the goal. They were composed on the ball and bossed Trinidad and Tobago around the pitch. It didn't hurt that they were running into some good luck as well.
Jean Sony Alcenat decided to take a chance on a long-range shot in the 26th minute. It was deflected by a Trinidad and Tobago player, nearly wrong-footing Williams, only for the shot to sail over the crossbar.
The first half finished with Haiti holding on to their one-goal lead. It was a very entertaining match for the first 45, and it took little time to pick back up in the second half.
When Kenwyne Jones' header hit the post in the 46th minute, you wondered if Trinidad and Tobago had finally awoken.
Instead, Haiti remained organized and withstood the onslaught.
In the 53rd minute, Maurice got himself a brace as he found himself in the right place at the right time to knock it in and put Haiti up, 2-0.
Williams looked to have a miscommunication with Carlyle Mitchell, as neither were able to clear a Haiti cross into the box. Mitchell got a touch to it, but he put the ball right into the path of a waiting Maurice, who didn't have to do anything to watch the ball bounce right off his leg and go into the back of the net.
You can see a highlight of the goal below, courtesy of Fox Soccer:
Right place, right time: Jean-Eudes Maurice doubles Haiti's lead over Trinidad & Tobago: - http://t.co/wO9UPR4xdN— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2013
Steve Brisendine of MLSSoccer.com thought Maurice's second goal belonged in pinball:
Somebody should cue up "Pinball Wizard" for Maurice, after that goal.— Steve Brisendine (@SteveBrisendine) July 13, 2013
That's how the match finished, as Haiti deservedly picked up three points. Their back line did a great job of marking Daniel and Jones out of the match. You hardly heard either of their names called, with the exception of the headers they failed to put away.
Garcon was pleased with the performance, essentially saying they seized the game:
Yo sezi. Ayiti 2-0— Pierre Garçon (@PierreGarcon) July 13, 2013
Haiti jump to second in the group with the win. They've got three points, while Trinidad and Tobago are stuck on the bottom with one point. They're behind El Salvador on goal differential.
Honduras 1, El Salvador 0
It took 90 minutes, but Honduras found the goal that will put them through to the knockout stage.
Much of the pre-match hype centered on the rivalry between the two countries. These are teams that don't like each other, much of it dating back to 1969. The Guardian has a brief summary of the so-called Football War.
Watching the match, you saw some moments where emotions got the better of the players. For the most part, though, the 90 minutes went by without much incident. The tackling did get pretty fierce, though.
Rony Martinez almost opened up the scoring in the 10th minute, but his shot curled just wide of the goal. It was a real good chance as Jorge Claros' through ball had Martinez bearing down on goal.
Honduras looked to have gone ahead in the 21st minute. Mario Berrios was near the left corner of the 18-yard box, made a great turn and hit a left-footed shot that sailed into the top right corner of the goal. It would have been one of the prettiest goals of the Gold Cup, only the linesman ruled Berrios was offside, and the goal was taken off the board.
In the replays, it looked like Berrios was just a fraction off, so it was a great call by the linesman.
Whether you agree with the call or not, it was meaningless in the end.
See the call for yourself, courtesy of Fox Soccer:
We'll probably hear from Dr. Joe about this. Watch the greatest offside goal you could ever score: - http://t.co/cVwXlLfGj9— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2013
The first half ended with both teams scoreless. It was probably a solid representation of the first 45 minutes. Neither team could get much of an advantage. When a move looked promising, either the defense would break it up, or the attacking team failed to connect on a killer ball to set up a goal.
The second half was much of the same.
Defense was the key, as both back fours did a great job of taking any of the opposition attackers out of the match. Rodolfo Zelaya was so effective for El Salvador in their first match, but he didn't bring anything to this one. His free kicks always sailed away from goal, and his passing was largely ineffective in the final third. The same could be said of Martinez for Honduras.
The match was very physical at times. With some rivalries, tensions have died down on the pitch a bit, and you'd never be able to tell two teams didn't like each other. This wasn't one of those matches.
Fox Soccer's Kyle McCarthy thought even he could feel the wrath of a studs-up tackle:
I feel endangered just watching the ridiculous tackles flying in Honduras - El Salvador. And I'm safely with @AmericanOutlaws in SLC.— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) July 13, 2013
As the match dragged on, you were beginning to wonder if a goal was ever going to come.
Just as you were finally giving up hope and marking the match down as a draw, it was Claros who broke the deadlock.
Kevin Santamaria had his free kick to the left of goal cleared out of danger. Eder Delgado sent the ball back into the box, into the waiting feet of Claros. He turned and fired in a powerful right-footed shot to give Honduras the late goal in the 92nd minute. The El Salvador back line played Claros on as it failed to move up before the ball left Delgado's foot. That left Claros with a lot of time and space with which he could finish.
Fox Soccer tweeted out a replay of the goal:
GOAL! Watch as Claros' stoppage time winner seals a vital three points for Honduras. - http://t.co/kbTmdUXASU— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2013
Soccer by Ives' Ives Galarcep thinks Claros will be on the radar of some MLS clubs very soon:
One heck of a stoppage-time winner from Jorge Claros to give Honduras the 1-0 win vs. El Salvador. Can hear the MLS teams lining up for him.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) July 13, 2013
El Salvador had no time to try to answer back. It was elation for Honduras and bitter defeat for El Salvador.
With the win and the three points, Honduras remain the only unbeaten team in the group. They'll be through to the next round no matter what their next result. The only thing up in the air is whether they'll finish first or second.
El Salvador has a lot of work to do in their next match. They need to get a win in their next match if they hope to get through.