Handicapping the Gold Cup Elimination Rounds
by Trevor Whenham - 7/19/2013
The early rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup are in the books, and on Saturday we enter the elimination rounds. Eight teams are still standing, but by late on July 28 there will be just one. This weekend we will see quarterfinals in Atlanta on Saturday and Baltimore on Sunday. On Wednesday the semifinals take place in Dallas, with the finals coming in Soldier Field next Sunday.
In theory this should be a massively significant tournament. The World Cup is less than a year away, so a major international tournament at this point should be a very good indicator of how strong teams are heading into the World Cup. The United States, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras are all still in the chase for the three or four berths CONCACAF will have in the World Cup field, and all are alive in this tournament. Therefore, what we see in the next week should be very educational for bettors. There is just one big problem, though — CONCACAF just isn’t any good right now. Every team in the region is deeply flawed and playing at far from an optimal level, and your glasses would have to be a particularly dark shade of rose to think that any of these squads are serious World Cup contenders. Mexico is the favorite from among this group to win the World Cup, yet at just 40/1 they fall behind 10 other teams and are 12 times less likely than the favored Brazilians to win. The U.S. is far back at 80/1.
Let’s put the depressing talk about the sorry state of our home federation aside for a while and look at what remains in this tournament. There are still seven games left to play, so there are seven opportunities left to make some bets and win some money.
The matchup everyone wants to see in the finals of this tournament is the U.S. against Mexico — the marquee matchup of CONCACAF. That matchup is still on track to happen. Mexico has a relatively easy path to the showdown at Soldier Field. They face an outmatched Trinidad and Tobago in the quarters then face the winner of Panama and Cuba in the semis. Mexico is the second choice to win the tournament at +300, but they will be solidly favored in both of their matches leading to the finals. If the Mexicans were the squad that looked like a legitimate underdog threat to challenge the elites of the world a couple of years ago then they would absolutely cruise to the finals — and likely win them. Something is very wrong with this team, though. They lack focus, and their chemistry is appalling. They should have the talent and depth they need, but they just haven’t put it together. They have scored just three goals in their last six World Cup qualifiers, and their ugly loss to Panama in the preliminaries of this tournament was one of the more mystifying results we have seen so far. They are the heavy -300 favorite to win their quarterfinal matchup, and it should be so easy for them it is laughable. However, with this team at this point you just can’t know what to expect.
And then there are the Americans. The team hasn’t won this tournament since 2007 and has been treading water — and slowly moving backwards — ever since their 2002 World Cup quarterfinals appearance opened the doors to such promise and expectation. They have cruised to this point, outscoring their three opponents 11-2. The 1-0 win over Costa Rica was far closer than it ever should have been, though, and the other games — against Belize and Cuba — were never going to be a real test. The easy games continue — El Salvador is the quarterfinal opponent, and the -550 price for the Americans is a clear sign of how one-sided the game should be. Next will be another tough test — Costa Rica (+900) and Honduras (+1000) are the fourth and fifth favorites in the field, and are both reasonably solid. If the Americans lose against either squad on home field, though, then the problems are even worse than they appear.
So, if we assume that the Americans and the Mexicans will take care of business as they should, then what happens when they meet? The Americans are the -120 favorites to win the tournament, so they would likely be solid favorites in the final. They should be, too. The Americans played Mexico to a draw in March in Mexico City. They will face a much friendlier crowd here. The fans at Soldier Field will be very pro-American as it would be harder to pick a site in the States that would have less local Mexican support. The U.S. team is scoring, and confidence should be on their side between the two fragile squads. If the U.S. does break their three-tournament losing streak at the Gold Cup then we won’t really know more about them than we did heading into the tournament. if they can’t win it with the advantages their draw and the location of the tournament offers them, though, then it would be time to be really concerned — 80/1 certainly wouldn’t be enough to justify betting on them to win the World Cup.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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