Gold Cup quarterfinals preview: Predictions, key players and what to watch for
We are down to the final eight teams in the Gold Cup. Central American stalwarts Honduras and El Salvador have gone home, while surprises abound like Curacao and Haiti, plus the top teams in the region like Mexico and the United States.
Here is the lowdown on each of the four quarterfinal clashes:
HAITI vs. CANADAWHERE: NRG Stadium, Houston WHEN: Saturday 7:00 PM ET
THE STORY SO FAR: For the first time in its history, Haiti finished atop their Gold Cup group and head into the knockout round after posting a perfect record in the group stage. As the youngest team in the tournament -- average age 24.33 -- Haiti have been a revelation and completely overwhelmed Costa Rica in the group finale to lock down first place.
Canada have also turned heads with their play. Never before had Canada even reached double digits in goals in a Gold Cup -- not even in their 2000 Gold Cup conquest and 2007 semifinal finish -- so to already have scored 12 goals is a sign of the budding attack force that Canada is growing. The forward line of Lucas Cavallini and Jonathan David have combined for nine goals.
HAITI WILL ADVANCE IF: They stay defensively sound and take advantage of their chances in front of goal. Canada will test them like no other team so far in this tournament, so discipline in the back will be crucial. Up front Haiti cannot afford to spoil the scoring chances it has created. The Canada back line had some nervy moments with Martinique and gave up three to Mexico. Haiti must make them pay.
CANADA WILL ADVANCE IF: The defense does not get stretched by Haiti's devastating counterattack and David and Cavallini keep their scorching-hot scoring boots on. Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius are showing some chemistry as the center backs, while Milan Borjan is an unsung hero in goal and Sam Piette is calm as the holding midfielder. The versatility of the Canadian wingers also gives good versatility to head coach John Herdman's attack.
KEY MAN, HAITI: Steeven Saba
Saba is a workhorse in midfield for Les Grenadiers. He is efficient with his passing and seems to control any midfield in which he plays by winning every 50-50 ball. He can tilt the game in Haiti's favor.
KEY MAN, CANADA: Alphonso Davies
Davies has lurked in the shadows of this tournament while others have grabbed the spotlight. But now in the knockout round, this is the time for Davies to be a difference maker. He is capable of beating any defender in the Gold Cup 1v1. It's his moment.
PREDICTION: Haiti 1-2 Canada.This is the most even of all the quarterfinals, but Canada boast just a tad more quality and have the best player on the field in Davies. They should have enough to edge the Haitians.
MEXICO vs. COSTA RICAWHERE: NRG Stadium, Houston WHEN: Saturday 9:30 PM ET
THE STORY SO FAR: Mexico marched to a perfect group stage record in the Gold Cup for the first time since 2011. That Gold Cup-winning side from eight years ago boasted all of Mexico's top players. This one does not, yet even without the likes of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Hirving Lozano, the Mexico attack has poured in 13 goals and allowed just three against Cuba, Canada and Martinique. They are flying under Gerardo "Tata" Martino.
Costa Rica have failed to convince thus far, but still had enough to take home second place in the group. Benefitting from an opening match at home, they throttled Nicaragua, but looked off in a narrow win over Bermuda and then were put to the sword in the second half by an impressive Haiti side.
MEXICO WILL ADVANCE IF: Mexico have scored at least three goals in every match during Martino's tenure, and there's no reason why that can't continue. Andres Guardado and Jonathan dos Santos pull the strings in midfield, while up top Uriel Antuna has been a revelation with four goals, and Raul Jimenez -- called Mexico's "most important striker" by Martino -- is arguably the best No. 9 in the tournament. There's little reason to think Los Ticos can toe-to-toe with the Mexico attack.
COSTA RICA WILL ADVANCE IF: It will be imperative for Costa Rica to slow the game down. Having a chippy, physical contest will benefit head coach Gustavo Matosas' men and could frustrate El Tri. The former Leon and Club America boss knows a thing or two about Mexican football, so he could use all his old tactics to keep Costa Rica in it and then try to steal a late winner.
KEY MAN, MEXICO: Raul Jimenez
This contest sets up perfectly for Jimenez, who was excellent against Martinique with a goal and an assist and now is poised to torment the Tico defense on Saturday night. Hold up play, set pieces, aerial game, Jimenez will be Mexico's main man.
KEY MAN, COSTA RICA: Leonel Moreira
This one is going to be mainly one-way traffic, so the Costa Rica goalkeeper Leonel Moreira will have to do his best Keylor Navas impression and keep the Mexican attack at bay as much as possible.PREDICTION: Mexico 3-0 Costa Rica. Mexico's goalscoring ways continue against an old, slow and out-of-sorts Costa Rica that won't be able to stop the attack for an entire 90 minutes.
JAMAICA vs. PANAMAWHERE: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia WHEN: Sunday 5:30 PM ET
THE STORY SO FAR: In the most even group of all, Jamaica kept their cool the best, using a home opener in Kingston to earn three points against Honduras before relying on their defense to secure back-to-back draws against El Salvador and Curacao. Defense has carried the day for the Reggae Boyz.
A year after reaching their World Cup apex, Panama have started to instill some new blood with the return of Julio Dely Valdes as manager, and the Canaleros had no problems handling Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana before falling narrowly to the U.S. Panama are adopting the look of a team that will be a tough out, no matter the opponent.
JAMAICA WILL ADVANCE IF: Their dangermen Leon Bailey and Shamar Nicholson must win their one-on-one battles against the Panama defense. Bailey was a ballyhooed addition to the Jamaica squad before the tournament, but he has not broken out yet. If Bailey raises his level, Jamaica should take it.
PANAMA WILL ADVANCE IF: Panama can be a threat to Jamaica on dead balls. Jamaica are the most likely team to control the tempo, so it will be up to Panama to make good from those set pieces, and the likes of Edgar Barcenas can do just that.
KEY MAN, JAMAICA: Dever Orgill
Orgill had a brace in the first match and with much of the attention expected to be on Bailey and Nicholson, Orgill could once again be the beneficiary. He'll need to show the same cutting edge against Panama as he did against Honduras.
KEY MAN, PANAMA: Edgar Barcenas
The Panama No. 10 has to be the man that makes it happen for the Canaleros, whether via the counterattack or on set pieces. He is arguably Dely Valdes' most creative player and has the ice-in-his-veins edge of a striker when a chance needs to be finished.
PREDICTION: Jamaica 1-0 Panama, Another close affair in which chances will be few and far between, but Jamaica have the goods to see this one through. Damion Lowe and Kemar Lawrence are so good in defense and will keep Panama under wraps to allow the attack to score one.
UNITED STATES vs. CURACAOWHERE: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia WHEN: Sunday 7:00 PM ET
THE STORY SO FAR: The U.S. endured a horrific run-up to the tournament with dreadful losses to Jamaica and Venezuela, but things have improved since the start of the tournament, as the U.S. is yet to give up a goal through three matches against Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Panama. Granted, it's not like they have been pushed, but it has to be a positive for a team looking to win back some fans.
Curacao hands down have been the surprise of the tournament. After a narrow, hard-fought 1-0 loss to El Salvador, they stunned Honduras 1-0 and then struck late to earn a draw with Jamaica. Whether it ends on Sunday or not, this has already been a wildly successful Gold Cup for Curacao.
UNITED STATES WILL ADVANCE IF: They strike early. Curacao have not faced the talent that the U.S. possesses up top and there is no reason to think that Christian Pulisic and Tyler Boyd won't do damage. Those two can open things up for the U.S.
CURACAO WILL ADVANCE IF: Goalkeeper Eloy Room shows the same form he had against Honduras when he saved a billion shots and if they can break down a still susceptible U.S. back line with a second half counter attack, Curacao can send more shockwaves through the region.
KEY MAN, UNITED STATES: Tyler Boyd
This match is set up for him to wreak havoc with his movement and speed against a Curacao defense that has holes. If Boyd gets an early goal, it could become a monster night for the national team's new arrival.
KEY MAN, CURACAO: Leandro Bacuna
Curacao will need a veteran with plenty of big-game experience to help manage the game and the former Premier League man fits the bill. Slowing down the game, drawing fouls and then striking on a counterattack is how Bacuna can make the U.S. uncomfortable and possibly pull off one of the greatest Gold Cup upsets ever.PREDICTION: United States 2-0 Curacao. It won't be easy and there will be some anxious moments for the hosts, but the U.S. will eventually find a way past a valiant Curacao with a couple second half goals, as the U.S.'s depth and rested legs will win out in the final half hour.