By RON FANFAIR
Based on the current International Soccer Federation (FIFA) rankings, Canada could be hard-pressed to reach the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football’s (CONCACAF) Gold Cup Final Four as they did two years ago before bowing out to eventual champions the United States.
The games, however, are played on the field where anything can happen.
Canada, ranked 94th in the world, is in the same group with 32nd-ranked Costa Rica; Jamaica which is ranked 70th and El Salvador, 106th in this year’s tournament that kicks off on July 3 with Canada opposing Jamaica at The Home Depot Centre in Los Angeles.
Both Canada and Jamaica were bounced from the final round of the regional qualifying tournament for next year’s World Cup in South Africa. The Canadians were held to a 1-1 draw at BMO Field last August before plunging to a 3-0 loss to the Reggae Boyz in the return match in Jamaica in November.
Canada meets El Salvador on July 7 in Columbus, Ohio and Costa Rica three days later at Florida International University Stadium. Costa Rica and El Salvador are currently competing in the final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying series.
Group “B” comprises two-time defending champion, the United States, Grenada, Haiti and Honduras while the Group “C” contestants are Panama, Mexico, Guadeloupe and Nicaragua.
“We are excited at having created these groups,” CONCACAF general secretary, Chuck Blazer, said. “Given the variety of teams and the cities we are going to, it offers something for everyone…We’ve been successful in the past by creating entertaining match-ups and I think this year will continue with that tradition.”
Each group has at least one representative from CONCACAF’s three geographic regions, North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the quarter-finals along with the two best third-place sides. The Group “A” and “B” winners will head to Philadelphia for their quarterfinal on July 18 while the Group “C” winner will play in Dallas the following day. The Philadelphia winners will meet in a semi-final on July 23 in Chicago and the Dallas winner will contest the other. The final takes place at Giants Stadium in New Jersey on July 26.
This is the 10th edition of the Gold Cup that Canada won nine years ago after shutting out Colombia 2-0 in the final.
The national side will participate in this year’s tournament with a new coach after Dale Mitchell was fired last week with a year remaining on his contract.
“We felt, in the best interest of the program, it was time to move forward in maybe a different direction,” said Canadian Soccer Association general secretary, Peter Montopoli. “And going into 2009, it seemed to be the most appropriate thing.”
Mitchell’s record has been dismal since he was hired in May 2007. In that time, the national team has won just three of its 12 contests. The former Canadian player-turned-coach has also been criticized by several players, including Toronto FC’s Jim Brennan and Dwayne DeRosario who expressed dissatisfaction with Mitchell’s leadership.
Prior to becoming the senior team’s national coach, Mitchell was at the helm of the national Under-20 team that failed to record a goal and lost all three of its matches in the last FIFA junior tournament in Canada two years ago.
Trinidad-born Stephen Hart, the CSA’s technical director and senior team assistant coach who was the interim coach of the Canadian side that reached the semi-finals of the 2007 Gold Cup tournament, is expected to lead the team again on an interim basis.
Meanwhile, Canadian women’s mid-fielder, Candace Chapman, failed to make it off the bench in the Boston Breakers 2-1 loss to FC Gold Pride in the opening match of the Women’s Professional Soccer League last Sunday in Santa Clara, California. Canadian Player of the Year, Christine Sinclair, was in the FC Gold Pride starting line-up before being replaced in the 69th minute.