Friday, September 4, 2015

Games to Watch: CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals

Panama vs. Cuba

Games to Watch: CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals

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Panama vs. Cuba 

3:30 p.m. Saturday (Fox Soccer/Univision) 

Two nations better known for their baseball exports will contest the first game of a Gold Cup quarterfinal doubleheader at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. 

Cuba pulled off one of the biggest shocks of this year's Gold Cup by reaching the knockout round. It took the last of four goals against Belize - scored in second-half stoppage time - to claim a quarterfinal berth at Martinique's expense. 

Speedy forward Ariel González likely drew the attention of Major League Soccer scouts with a hat trick against the Jaguars - though it won't be easy to sign him, as he'd have to defect first. 

Panama might not have the most name recognition in the soccer world, but the Canaleros delivered an impressive performance in beating Mexico to the top of Group A. Coach Julio Dely Valdes has assembled a well-drilled team that's led by FC Dallas' Blas Pérez and former Union midfielder Gabriel Gómez. Don't be surprised if they end up in the championship game next weekend.

Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago

6:30 p.m. Saturday (Fox Soccer/Univision)

Union fans who've watched Keon Daniel lead Trinidad & Tobago into the Gold Cup quarterfinals might wonder why he hasn't always played that well for the Union. It's a question that has vexed John Hackworth too. It would be an even bigger boost for Daniel if he can help the Soca Warriors to an upset of Mexico.

El Tri will have the overwhelming majority of the crowd at the Georgia Dome, and has the game's best player in midfielder Marco Fabián. But if Mexico doesn't put on a show, fans could just as easily turn against their team. Another loss in a summer full of them could send coach José Manuel de la Torre packing.

United States vs. El Salvador

4:00 p.m. Sunday (Fox/Univision)

Nearly 60,000 fans will be on hand for Sunday's Gold Cup quarterfinal doubleheader at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, and not because of the so-called home team. The mid-Atlantic region's sizable Salvadoran expat population will be out in force to watch one of La Selecta's biggest games in years.

El Salvador's Rodolfo Zelaya has been one of the stars of the tournament, having scored three of team's four goals so far. He'll pose a threat to an American backline that was shaky at times in the group stage.

Jurgen Klinsmann has called in Kansas City's Matt Besler as a defensive reinforcement for the knockout rounds, which should help. Seattle's Eddie Johnson has also joined the team, boosting an attack fueled so far by Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski. 

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

7:00 p.m. Sunday (Fox Soccer/Univision)

The last Gold Cup quarterfinal should be the best of the bunch. The teams are evenly matched, and are plenty familiar with each other.

In addition to this year's World Cup qualifying battles, both squads have players who have faced off in MLS. Honduras is led by Seattle's Mario Martínez and San Jose's Marvin Chávez. Costa Rica counters with Portland's Rodney Wallace, Real Salt Lake's Álvaro Saborío and Columbus' Jairo Arrieta.

Honduras will also be backed by one of North America's most fervent fan bases. Any time the Catrachos play in the U.S., they draw a big crowd. The scene in Baltimore for Sunday's doubleheader should be no different.

And since Honduras' biggest rival, El Salvador, is playing in the first game, the atmosphere will likely be even more raucous than usual. The Honduran fans might just give their adopted nation a few cheers before watching their home country.

The winners of the four quarterfinals will advance to Wednesday's semifinals at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (7:00 and 10:00 p.m., Fox Soccer and UniMás). Saturday's winners will meet in one game and Sunday's winners will meet in the other.

Philly.com
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