[GOLD CUP PREVIEW] Mexico, the defending Gold Cup champion, should have no trouble winning Group A. Perhaps the most intriguing match will be the Tri's third game against Costa Rica, coached by its old boss, Argentine Ricardo La Volpe. El Salvador has an American accent to its team with the inclusion of two U.S. born- and bred players, Arturo Alvarez and Steve Purdy. Cuba, whose Gold Cup history has been marred by defections, will consider it an accomplishment if it returns home with its squad still intact.
MEXICO. Young superstar Javier Hernandez of Manchester United heads Mexico's core of European-based players who make the Tri the pre-tournament favorite.
The only one of Mexico's young stars not at the Gold Cup is Carlos Vela, whom it was holding out to play in the Copa America but Arsenal has blocked his release.
The pressure will be on Coach Chepo de la Torre to win in his first major tournament since taking over as head coach.
U.S. connection: Rafael Marquez's move to MLS to play for the New York Red Bulls means he's available to play for Mexico at the Gold Cup. During his 11 seasons in Europe, he only appeared in the Gold Cup twice and didn't win wither time. Mexico lost to Canada in the quarterfinals in 2000 and to the host USA in the 2007 final.
Goalkeepers: Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Guillermo Ochoa (Club America), Jonathan Orozco (Monterrey)
Defenders: Edgar Duenas (Toluca), Ricardo Osorio (Monterrey), Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres), Efrain Juarez (Celtic, Scotland), Rafael Marquez (New York Red Bulls), Francisco Javier Rodriguez (PSV, Netherlands), Hector Moreno (AZ, Netherlands), Carlos Salcido (Fulham, England)
Midfielders: Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), Antonio Naelson (Toluca), Christian Bermudez (Atlante), Jesus Zavala (Monterrey), Israel Castro (UNAM), Andres Guardado (Dep. Coruna, Spain)
Forwards: Angel Reyna (Club America), Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey), Elias Hernandez (Morelia), Giovanni Dos Santos (Racing de Santander, Spain), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United, England), Pablo Barrera (West Ham, England)
COSTA RICA. La Volpe is taking the Gold Cup seriously. He had the Ticos out on the training field at SMU in 97-degree heat for three hours shortly after the team arrived in Dallas for Sunday's opener against Cuba.
Striker Bryan Ruiz, who plays for FC Twente in the Netherlands and is known as "La Comadreja" ("the Weasel'), leads the Ticos, who are rebuilding after failing to reach the 2010 World Cup.
Celso Borges, Jose Miguel Cubero, Allen Guevara and Marco Urena will form the youngest midfield at the Gold Cup. No player is older than 23.
Only once in nine appearances has Costa Rica failed to reach the knockout phase of the Gold Cup, but the closest it came to winning came in 2002 when it lost to the USA, 2-0, in the final.
U.S. connection: Veteran forward Alvaro Saborio plays for Real Salt Lake. Francisco Calvo, a late call-up for the injured Cristian Gamboa, spent last fall at junior college powerhouse San Jacinto JC in Houston.
Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Albacete, Spain), Donny Grant (San Carlos).
Defenders: Bryan Oviedo (FC Nordsjaelland, Denmark), Oscar Duarte (Saprissa), Dennis Marshall (Aalborg, Denmark), Heiner Mora (Saprissa), Jhonny Acosta (Alajuelense), Junior Diaz (Club Brugge, Belgium), Jose Salvatierra (Alajuelense), Francisco Calvo (San Jacinto JC).
Midfielders: David Guzman (Saprissa), Diego Madrigal (Cerro Porteno, Paraguay), Celso Borges (Fredrikstad, Norway), Jose Miguel Cubero (Herediano), Allen Guevara (Alajuelense), Marco Urena (FC Kuban, Russia).
Forwards: Josue Martinez (Saprissa), Cristian Bolanos (FC Copenhagen, Denmark), Bryan Ruiz (FC Twente, Netherlands), Randall Brenes (Cartagines), Joel Campbell (Saprissa), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake).
EL SALVADOR. A coaching change in April installed Uruguayan Ruben Israel as El Salvador's national team coach for the Gold Cup, a tournament at which it has rarely done well. Six appearances in the Gold Cup have yielded two quarterfinal finishes.
U.S. connection: Alvarez (Real Salt Lake) played for the USA at the 2003 Under-20 World Cup but joined El Salvador for 2010 World Cup qualifying. Unfortunately, he'll probably miss Sunday's game against Mexico with a pulled hamstring suffered this week in practice. Purdy (Portland Timbers), whose mother is Salvador, has committed for the Gold Cup. A pair of former MLS players are also in the Salvadoran squad: Ramon Sanchez and Eliseo Quintanilla.
Goalkeepers: Miguel Montes (no club), Dagoberto Portillo (Once Municipal), Juan Gomez (Luis Angel Firpo).
Defenders: Steven Purdy (Portland Timbers), Luis Anaya (Universidad), Marvin Gonzalez (Aguila), Deris Umanzor (Aguila), Reynaldo Hernandez (Vista Hermosa), Víctor Turcios (Luis Angel Firpo).
Midfielders: Arturo Alvarez (Real Salt Lake), Shawn Martin (Aguila), Ramon Sanchez (Aguila), Osael Romero (Aguila), Gilberto Baires (Atletico Marte), Edwin Sanchez (Universidad), Jaime Alas (Luis Angel Firpo), Xavier Garcia (Luis Angel Firpo), Eliseo Quintanilla (Luis Angel Firpo), Dennis Alas (Luis Angel Firpo).
Forwards:: Lester Blanco (Metapan), Andres Flores (Metapan), Rodolfo Zelaya (Alianza), Rudis Corrales (Alianza).
CUBA. Defections have been such a problem for Cuba when it travels to the Gold Cup that it declined participating in 2009.
Rey Angel Martinez and Alberto Delgado ran away from the Cuba team hotel in Los Angeles in the middle of breakfast in 2002. Maykel Galindo (now with FC Dallas) took refugee in the Seattle soccer community after scoring against the USA during the 2005 Gold Cup.
In 2007, Lester More defected during Cuba's stay in New Jersey. And midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (now with the Seattle Sounders) went left his teammates during a shopping trip in Houston before a game against Honduras, went to the nearby Greyhound station and took a bus to Miami.
Goalkeepers: Odelin Molina (Villa Clara), Odisnel Cooper (Camaguey), Julio Pichardo (Las Tunas)
Defenders: Yenier Marquez (Villa Clara), Reysander Fernandez (Ciego de Avila), Hanier Dranguet (Guantanamo), Alianni Urgelles (Guantanamo), Jorge Luis Clavelo (Villa Clara)
Midfielders: Yoel Colome (Ciudad de la Habana), Carlos D. Francisco (Santiago de Cuba), Alain Cervantes (Ciego de Avila), Jaine Colome Valencia (Ciudad de la Habana), Alberto Gomez (Guantanamo), Dagoberto Quesada (Camaguey), Francisco Carranza (Cienfuegos), Marcel Hernandez (Ciudad de la Habana)
Forwards: Sander Fernandez (Ciego de Avila), Roberto Linares (Villa Clara), Yaudel Lahera (Ciudad de la Habana), Yosniel Mesa (Cienfuegos), Ariel Martinez (Sancti Spiritus).
1. Mexico, 2. Costa Rica, 3. El Salvador, 4. Cuba.