By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)
|12-Jul||9:00PM||Phoenix||U. of Phoenix Stadium||GUA||MEX|
|15-Jul||6:00PM||Charlotte||Bank of America Stadium||CUB||GUA|
Guatemala is one of the teams being talked about the least, but don’t count them out. A favorable group draw and an experienced roster make this team a contender to become this year’s tournament surprise. Still, with only one win in their last eight games, questions about their coach and an overreliance on players well into their 30s may prove tough obstacles to overcome.
How did they get here?
They qualified for the Gold Cup by finishing 2nd in the 2014 Copa Centroamericana, losing 1-2 to Costa Rica in the final.
|Country||Avg Age||Avg Caps||ELOrank||FIFArank|
What Group are they in?
They are in group C, along with Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, and Mexico. The group winner will play the 3rd place team of either group A or B. The runner-up will play Group B runner up, and if the 3rd place team qualifies for the knockout round, they will play the group A winner.
How are they are ranked?
ELO ranking: 81 FIFA ranking:93
On paper, they are the 2nd best team in the group after Mexico (T&T’s 67 FIFA rank is laughable). Barring a total surprise, Cuba is likely to lose all their games and Mexico will hope to win all of theirs. That likely leaves Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago to fight it out for 2nd and 3rd place.
Who is their Head Coach?
Iván Franco Sopegno has won five championships in the Guatemalan league, third most of all time. He took over the national team in March of 2014 and after winning his first two games, his team has gone 1-5-2, which included losses to fellow Gold Cup entrants Costa Rica (1-2), Canada (1-0), and Mexico (3-0). Their only win in that span was a 1-0 victory over 126th ranked Bermuda.
|Victor Ayala||GK||Antigua GFC||Guatemala||26||0|
|Ricardo Jerez||GK||Alianza Petrolera||Colombia||29||42|
|Moises Hernandez||D||FC Dallas||USA||23||4|
|Elias Enoc Vasquez||D||Real Salt Lake||USA||23||29|
|Brandon De Leon||M||Marquense||Guatemala||22||5|
|Marco Pappa||M||Seattle Sounders FC||USA||27||46|
|Minor Lopez||F||Atlético CP||Portugal||28||34|
Who are the important players that I should know?
Marco Pappa (MID) is the best player and the biggest name on this roster. The Seattle Sounders’ midfielder will be the creator in this offense, and will also be relied on to score. His set-piece delivery (and shots) will be imperative if Guatemala is going to make a splash in this tournament. His four goals earned him the golden boot and the golden ball at the Copa Centroamericana, and he'll be hoping to replicate that form.
Yes, it's THAT Carlos Ruiz (FWD). The former MLS MVP and journeyman has been playing in his home country since leaving MLS in 2013, and at 35 still is a regular starter for his national team. He’s old and slow, but still managed to score twice in the Copa Centroamericana, putting his national team leading tally at 57 goals. He may be a robot.
Jose Contreras (MID) is the captain, and will anchor the midfield next to Papa. He’s unlikely to score, but will help cover for Pappa’s lack of defensive prowess while still getting involved with the attack. If teams focus too much on Pappa, he’ll be the one that makes them pay.
It’s an aging roster, but there are also some promising young players (keep an eye on 19 year old midfielder Gerado Arias) looking to break into the team. Ten players on the roster all play for Communicaciones in Guatemala, and only five players get their wages from outside their home country, so finding a way to mesh won’t be an issue. This isn’t the strongest roster Guatemala has assembled for the Gold Cup, but it’s not a weak one, either.
What have they done in the past?
2013: Did not qualify
2011: Lost 2-1 to Mexico in the quarter-finals
2009: Did not qualify
2007: Lost to Canada 3-0 in the quarter-finals
|Group||Ave ELO||Ave FIFA|
What do we expect from them this go around?
Sopengo’s job very well may depend on how well the team performs in the Gold Cup, so there shouldn’t be any question that they’re taking it seriously (ahem, Honduras). If Ruiz and their aging corps have the fitness - a hot night in Phoenix against Mexico has the potential to get ugly – their experience could help them through. Group C is the weakest, so they should expect to make it out of the group, even if they finish in third. If they can get 2nd and a winnable matchup against Canada or Jamaica, Guatemala has an outside shot at being the Cinderella of the tournament. Still, the recent poor run of form suggests something is amiss. A 3rd place finish in the group and quick exit from the knockout round is most likely.