The 2011 version of the Gold Cup could be a classic with many storylines going into the tournament.
The USA vs. Mexico rivalry seems to be entering a new era with the recent rise of Chicharito and the USA pinning its hopes on many youngsters and newcomers such as Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, Jozy Altidore, and yes the return of Freddy Adu.
Although the United States and Mexico are the two clear favorites, Dwayne De Rosario, Atiba Hutchinson and the Canadians seem confident they can repeat the magic they made in the 2000 version, where they became the first country (and still the only country) that is not the US or Mexico to win the tournament.
Out of the Caribbean, the only real threat out of the islands looks to be Jamaica, who feel they have their strongest team in years. A strong contingent of players abroad in MLS, England, and Norway seem to be preparing the Reggae Boyz well this year.
Although they may be confident, star striker Omar Cummings is currently injured and the Jamaicans are going to need Cummings to be playing if they're really after a title.
Down in Central America, there is also tough competition. Honduras and Costa Rica are probably the two strongest teams behind the Mexico and the US in the region.
The Hondurans have proven themselves on big stages by qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and nearly knocking out Mexico in the 2009 Gold Cup, where they lost on penalties in the semi-finals.
Group A should be a walk in the park for Mexico, as they are looking to collect all nine points. Costa Rica is the second best team in the group on paper, but could face a tricky matchup against El Salvador for the second place spot.
The fourth contestant in the group, Cuba, could become an issue for some teams in this group, but I still have them finishing last.
1. Mexico - 9 points
2. Costa Rica - 6 points
3. El Salvador - 1 point (gain third place on goal differential)
4. Cuba - 1 point
(teams in bold advance to next round)
Group B will likely be the most competitive due to this being the only group that does not contain the United States or Mexico.
Grenada, who are led by New England Revolution star Shalrie Joseph, are likely to be the punching bag of the group and lose all three games.
Honduras and Jamaica will be the front-runners to top the group, while Guatemala could become a contender riding the backs of their two offensive stars, Carlos Ruiz and Marco Pappa.
1. Jamaica - 7 points
2. Honduras - 5 points
3. Guatemala - 4 points
4. Grenada - 0 points
Group C, which is headlined by the Americans, could create a few unexpected surprises. I see the opening match of the USA vs Canada to end as a 0-0 draw, as the US will falter again to score goals with their unproven and inexperienced striker pool.
Although I do see that game as motivation for the Americans, and they should beat Panama and Guadeloupe by at least three goals.
The Canadians are known well for their inconsistent results, and after they get the great draw against the US, they will fall to Panama.
Even though Guadeloupe made a very impressive and surprising showing at the 2007 Gold Cup coming in fourth overall, I see them as fourth in this group.
1. USA - 7 points
2. Panama - 6 points
3. Canada - 4 points
4. Guadeloupe - 0 points
The top two of the three third-place teams will advance to the knockout rounds.
1. Canada - 4 points (gain first on goal differential)
2. Guatemala - 4 points
3. El Salvador - 1 point
The point count in the group stage will arrange the quarterfinal fixtures to be:
Mexico vs. Canada
Canada's costly loss to Panama in the group stage made them pay the ultimate consequences having to play Mexico in the quarter finals. Mexico 3 - Canada 0
USA vs. Guatemala
Guatemala will be proud of making it out their group, as it is a national goal for them, but the United States awaits them in the quarters. USA 3 - Guatemala 0
Jamaica vs. Panama
Jamaica come into the quarters riding high after topping their group, and Panama aren't going to be expecting the Jamaica team they will be seeing. Jamaica 2 - Panama 1
Costa Rica vs. Honduras
The two Central American powers meet in the quarterfinals which really could be a thrilling game to be a spectator of. Costa Rica 2 - Honduras 2, Costa Rica advance on penalties
Mexico, the United States, Jamaica, and Costa Rica all win the quarter-finals and are now in the semis. The fixtures are:
Mexico vs. Costa Rica
A rematch of the epic game in the 2009 Gold Cup semi-finals which saw Mexico prevail in penalties. This time around, the game will still be good, but it ends at 90. Mexico 2 - Costa Rica 1
USA vs. Jamaica
The Reggae Boyz reach their first semi-final since 1998 and have all the confidence in the world, but the USA vs. Mexico rivalry will write another page in its storied history book in 2011. USA 3 - Jamaica 1
Truly one of the great international rivalries in the world, the United States and Mexico will play for the Gold Cup title in 2011 and their spot in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013.
The game will be tight, tense, and a nerve-wrecking clash that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats.
Chicharito will open the scoring, but then the hero Landon Donovan will draw the USA even at 1 and that's how it will end the the 90-minute mark.
Thirty minutes later, Tim Howard will show his class between the sticks. The Americans prevail on penalties and win their fifth Gold Cup.