Guatemala at United States
11:21 p.m. Friday (NBC Sports Network and UniMás at 11:00)
The U.S. national team heads to San Diego for a warm-up game before the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Expect the spotlight to shine on three Americans who play their club soccer just over the border in Tijuana, Mexico: Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Hérculez Gómez. We might also see winger Brek Shea, who's had a difficult time settling in at English club Stoke City.
Considering how often the U.S. and Guatemala have met in World Cup qualifying, you might be surprised that the Chapines aren't in the Gold Cup. It's because they failed to qualify out of the Copa Centroamericana. Belize finished above them in the group stage, and Panama beat them in a one-game playoff for the last Gold Cup spot.
Messi and Friends vs. World All-Stars
7:00 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi has organized this charity fundraising exhibition at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Among the stars who will play with the game’s namesake are Thierry Henry and Carlos Bocanegra.
It's worth nothing that this game is part of a series of exhibitions across the Americas. There was supposed to be a game at the Los Angeles Coliseum on July 3. But it got canceled within a day of kickoff, leaving the promoter and fans outraged. Games in South America - including one in Lima, Peru the night before the scheduled L.A. contest - didn't draw big crowds, which meant the organizers couldn't pay guarantees.
At least this game has some TV money behind it, which means it's going to take place. But many of the big names who were originally supposed to participate - such as Robert Lewandoski, Edinson Cavani and Michael Bradley - now won't be there.
I've also heard that there are talks to get the game in Los Angeles rescheduled. Here's hoping that happens, because the fans who paid good money for tickets don't deserve to be fleeced.
Seattle Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps
11:21 p.m. Saturday (NBC Sports Network at 11:00)
Seattle and Vancouver have been soccer rivals since the 1970’s in the old NASL. But since joining Major League Soccer in 2011, the Whitecaps have never beaten the Sounders or their other Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers.
Now would be a very good time for Vancouver to snap that winless streak. They’re above Seattle in the standings, and the Sounders are on the outside looking in. A big reason for that is the strong play of two former Union stalwarts, goalkeeper Brad Knighton and defender Jordan Harvey.
Seattle brings big-money forward Obafemi Martins, who scored two impressive goals against D.C. United on Wedneday. If the Nigerian can keep that form up, the Sounders won't be outside the playoff places for much longer.
Sporting Kansas City at Chicago Fire
3:00 p.m. Sunday (ESPN)
After a slow start to the season, Chicago is now on a nine-game unbeaten streak: seven games in MLS and two in the U.S. Open Cup It’s no coincidence that the Fire’s turnaround has come after trading for Mike Magee, who’s tied with Jack McInerney and Vancouver's Camilo Sanvezzo as MLS’ second-best scorer. They all have 10 goals; Montréal's Marco Di Vaio leads the league with 11.
Kansas City just signed superstar midfielder Graham Zusi to a contract extension. Zusi, Kei Kamara and Claudio Bieler form one of the most dangerous attacking trios in MLS.
Canada vs. Martinique and Mexico vs. Panama
5:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Sunday (Fox Soccer and Univision, with pregame coverage starting at 5:00)
The Gold Cup kicks off with an intriguing doubleheader at Mexico’s home away from home: the famed Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
In the first game, two Portland Timbers teammates will face off: Canada’s Will Johnson and Martinique’s Frédéric Piquionne. Canada’s young squad needs a win to have hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.
Mexico’s squad will be led by players from last year’s Olympic gold-medal winning team. The Chivas tandem of Marco Fabián and Miguel Ponce are the headliners.
El Tri’s headliners have been given a summer vacation. But after a poor start to World Cup qualifying and early elimination from the Confederations Cup, the players on the Gold Cup squad want to restore some national pride.
Panama will have FC Dallas’ Blas Pérez and former Union midfielder Gabriel Gómez.
Though the Gold Cup isn’t always taken seriously, there are real stakes this time. The winner of the tournament will play a playoff against the winner of the 2015 edition for a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
United States vs. Belize
11:00 p.m. Tuesday (Fox Soccer and UniMás; preceded by Costa Rica vs. Cuba at 8:30, with pregame coverage starting at 8:00)
The U.S. men open Gold Cup group stage play with their first trip to soccer-mad Portland, Ore., since 1998. Landon Donovan headlines an American squad that also includes Union forward Jack McInerney and Sporting Lisbon defender Oguchi Oneywu.
Most of the players on Belize’s roster play in that country’s domestic league, so this game shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. If the U.S. can put the Jaguars away early, the stage could be set for McInerney to get some playing time.
Another U.S. player worth watching is creative midfielder Mix Diskerud. He’s a dual-national with American and Norwegian citizenship who has played a few times for the U.S. in friendlies.
FIFA’s rules don’t tie a player to a specific national team until he plays in a real competition, and Diskerud has been on the fence for much of Klinsmann’s tenure. Now he’s finally ready to commit to the American team. Once he plays in the Gold Cup, he’ll be tied to the U.S. for good.
Canada vs. Mexico
11:00 p.m. Thursday (Fox Soccer and UniMás; preceded by Panama vs. Martinique at 8:30, with pregame coverage starting at 8:00)
Canadian coach Colin Miller sent a message by leaving some of his best-known veterans off his Gold Cup roster. The youngsters he called up – including Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio and Vancouver’s Russell Teibert – will get their biggest test in this game.
Yes, Mexico only brought its “B team” to the Gold Cup. But this is just the kind of test Miller wanted to give Canada’s new generation. The game will take place in Seattle, which means fans in Vancouver can make the short trip over the border.
Since Canada plays almost exclusively in Toronto, expect a big contingent of Voyageurs in the stands at CenturyLink Field. They’ll be drowned out by El Tri supporters, but it should be a fun night of soccer in the Emerald City.