Gold Cup Team Preview: Guatemala / by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

Group Stage Schedule
DateTime (ET)CityVenueHomeAway
09-Jul 7:00PM Chicago Soldier Field TNT GUA
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.

Group C
CountryAvg AgeAvg CapsELOrankFIFArank
Mexico 27.5 34.6 15 23
Guatemala 27.3 24.9 81 93
T&T 25.7 22 88 67
Cuba 25.9 18 118 107

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
Paulo Motta GK Municipal Guatemala 33 17
Carlos Castrillo D Comunicaciones Guatemala 30 25
Stefano Cincotta D Chemnitzer Germany 24 6
Moises Hernandez D FC Dallas USA 23 4
Wilson Lalin D Comunicaciones Guatemala 30 18
Deniss Lopez D Municipal Guatemala 33 6
Ruben Morales D Comunicaciones Guatemala 28 13
Elias Enoc Vasquez D Real Salt Lake USA 23 29
Jorge Aparicio M Comunicaciones Guatemala 22 7
Gerado Arias M Petapa Guatemala 19 5
Jose Contreras M Comunicaciones Guatemala 29 60
Carlos Figueroa M Comunicaciones Guatemala 35 57
Kendel Herrarte M Comunicaciones Guatemala 23 12
Brandon De Leon M Marquense Guatemala 22 5
Marco Pappa M Seattle Sounders FC USA 27 46
Jonathan Marquez M Comunicaciones Guatemala 30 34
Carlos Mejia M Comunicaciones Guatemala 23 10
Jairo Arreola F Comunicaciones Guatemala 29 22
Edgar Chinchilla F Xelajú Guatemala 28 4
Minor Lopez F Atlético CP Portugal 28 34
Carlos Ruiz F Municipal Guatemala 35 116

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?
 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

GroupAve ELOAve FIFA
A 56.25 58
B 65.5 69.25
C 75.5 72.5

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.