The 2019 Gold Cup kicks off on Saturday with a
doubleheader at the Rose Bowl, where a crowd of at least 60,000 is expected for the main attraction, Mexico's opening game against Cuba, the second game in a doubleheader that also features
Mexico has won seven of the 14 previous editions and is favored over the USA, the host and defending champion. Both teams enter the tournament with new coaches plucked from the ranks of MLS -- Mexico's Tata Martino (Atlanta United) and the USA's Gregg Berhalter (Columbus Crew) -- and new teams.
In Mexico's case, it has been decimated by player withdrawals. But what separates Mexico from the USA is its depth of talent that has allowed Martino to put together an exciting new team after the disappointment of Mexico's exit in the second round of the 2018 World Cup.
For a variety of reasons, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Hector Herrera and the LAFC's Carlos Vela -- all starters on the 2018 World Cup team -- pulled out as did Porto's Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, a reserve in 2018.
An knee injury forced PSV's Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Mexico's top attacking talent a year ago in Russia, to pull out while defender Miguel Layun is sitting out the Gold Cup because of his treatment for a cancerous tumor. And on Friday, Jorge Sanchez was replaced by the LA Galaxy's Uriel Antuna after sustaining an injury to his right foot.
Still, Martino has gotten great results since he took over and introduced a 4-3-3 formation. El Tri has won all four games in 2019, all against South American opposition and scored at least three goals in all four games: Chile (3-1), Paraguay (4-2), Venezuela (3-1) and Ecuador (3-2).
Strikers Raul Jimenez, who scored 13 goals in his first season with Wolves in the Premier League, and playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro, who helped Guadalajara and Monterrey win Concacaf Champions League titles in 2018 and 2019, lead El Tri's attack.
Martino's midfield could consist of 22-year-old Carlos Rodriguez, who beat out Mexican-American Jonathan Gonzalez for a starting spot at Monterrey, 20-year-old Roberto Alvarado of Cruz Azul and 21-year-old Edson Alvarez of Club America. Alvarez started on Mexico's backline at the 2018 World Cup but Martino has converted him to a defensive midfielder.
“Mexico naturally always has to be a candidate to win the Gold Cup,” Martino said after El Tri beat Ecuador, 3-2. “The absences haven’t modified my thinking and we need to continue in our role as candidates or one of the candidates. And so we need to play like one of the candidates.”