|AP Photo/Eugenio Savio

The 2013 CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) Gold Cup, the tournament to decide soccer supremacy in the region, kicks off its 12th edition on Sunday, July 7, in Pasadena California when defending champion Mexico takes on Panama in a featured doubleheader that also features Canada going against Martinique, one of four Caribbean teams in the 12-team tournament. The tournament will be played at nine venues throughout the U. S.

Since the biennial competition began in 1991, Mexico has captured the Gold Cup trophy an unprecedented six times, with the USA a close second with four titles and Canada, the only other team to win it, with one. The 12 teams for this 12th edition are in three groups with the top two teams in each group, along with the two teams with the best records from among the rest, moving to the quarterfinal stage (July 20 in Atlanta and July 21 in Baltimore), then semifinals (July 24 in Arlington, Texas) and final at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Sunday, July 28

In Group A, Mexico is featuring what many believe is a second team in order to rest its top players, who recently unsuccessfully competed in the just completed FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, after a grueling and unflattering World Cup qualifying campaign. Unknown players such as Marco Fabian, Miguel Ponce and Jorge Enriquez, who led Mexico to it first Olympic soccer gold, are on display for Mexico, who could be looking for new players to ensure World Cup qualification; Mexico has won only once in five CONCACAF qualifiers.

Mexico’s competition in Group A comes from 2011 semifinalist Panama, led by forward Blas Perez of FC Dallas in MLS and goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, a four-year Gold Cup veteran. Martinique, with veteran striker Frederic Piquionne a former English Premier League performer with West Ham United and who also played for teams in the French League One, will also be a formidable foe. Martinique finished fourth in the Caribbean Championship in January. There is also Canada, which features MLS players Will Johnson and Julian de Guzman.

Group B probably has the most parity among its teams and may just be the most competitive. Honduras, which was second to Costa Rica in the Central American championship, features former MLS star with DC United, Andy Najar, who helped Honduras to a good position in third place in World Cup qualifying as Honduras is coming off a big home win against Jamaica. El Salvador, with top scorer Rafael Burgos, will be keen on winning the group in search of its first Gold cup title, while Caribbean Championship second-place finisher Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti, which finished third in the Caribbean, will be just as keen to prove their mettle.

Among the four Caribbean teams, Trinidad and Tobago has the most players in with foreign clubs in Europe and the USA, including striker Kenwyne Jones of Stoke City in the English Premier League. Trinidad recently added former Canada head coach Stephen Hart to lead the team in the Gold Cup and also employed the services of Leo Beenhakker, the Dutch coach who lead the country to its first World Cup appearance in 2006. Former coach Hutson Charles, who along with Jamal Shabazz, lead the team to second place in Caribbean Championship to qualify for the Gold Cup, is an assistant to Hart in the new coaching staff. Trinidad and Tobago plays El Salvador on Monday, July 8, in the first game of a double header with Haiti meeting Honduras at Red Bulls Arena starting at 8:00 p.m.

Haiti, always one of the most talented team in the Caribbean, has shown that it may be on its way back to the top among the world’s top teams; it recent made a good showing in 2-1 loss to world champion Spain in a friendly in Miami about a month ago and rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie Italy in another recent friendly.

In Group C, the United States, which like Mexico, has called up a second string team, is led by all-time leading goal scorer Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS. Donovan has not featured for the USA in its recent qualifiers and is among other veterans such as Carlos Bocanegra who are still on U. S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s watch list. The U. S. will have to deal with a strong Costa Rican team, which won the Central American championship recently and is second in the World Cup qualifying standings.

The Costa Ricans will be out to avenge a loss to the U. S. that it protested when the qualifying game was played in a snow storm in Colorado back in February.

Mexico’s Javier Hernandez is challenged for the ball by Japan’s Atsuto Uchida during a soccer Confederations Cup group A match at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 22, 2013.
AP Photo/Eugenio Savio
AP Photo/Eugenio Savio