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Soccernet: Mex and Canada pose real threats to US


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Mexico and Canada pose real threats to the U.S.


Ives Galarcep, Special to ESPNsoccernet


If the national teams of Mexico and Canada were watching the United States play on Thursday night, and you know they were, both squads had to come away feeling even more confident that they have as good a chance as the Americans do of adding a Gold Cup trophy to the mantle.

Ben Liebenberg/WireImage

Canada's Julian De Guzman is a dynamic playmaker in midfield.

The Americans and Mexicans were the easy favorites heading into the tournament, but after the U.S. team's tougher-than-expected 1-0 victory over feisty Guatemala and Canada's impressive performance in defeating Costa Rica, the race for the 2007 Gold Cup is at the very least a three-horse race.

Before too much is made of the U.S. team's struggles to put away a Guatemalan squad that didn't exactly play with tons of ambition or attacking intelligence, it should be noted that coach Bob Bradley's team is still getting accustomed to playing together and did manage to control the game despite playing a man down for the final 17 minutes after Oguchi Onyewu was sent off.

Mexico still hasn't taken the field in the tournament but must be optimistic after seeing an American squad that is beatable.

How confident should Mexico and coach Hugo Sanchez be heading into their Gold Cup opener? The last-minute 1-0 loss to Paraguay in a friendly on Wednesday night, which came after Mexico squandered countless scoring chances, has surely left a sour taste. The perfect remedy could be coming in the form of Cuba, which plays the role of glorified away team when it takes the field in front of a pro-Mexico crowd at Giants Stadium on Friday night.

If the U.S. team's struggles with Guatemala will do anything for Mexico, it will give Sanchez an example to show his team that no opponent should be taken lightly in this tournament, even a starless but defensively tough Cuban squad. A good start in Friday night's match is vital, not only for the team's morale, which may be shaken a bit after losing at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday, but also because tough opponents await in Mexico's next two matches (Panama and Honduras).

A slipup against the Cubans and suddenly Mexico will be feeling pressure to beat two good opponents without its best player, Rafael Marquez, who isn't expected to play in the Gold Cup until the semifinal round as he finishes out the La Liga season with Barcelona.

The smart money is still on Mexico coming out and putting on a show. The attack is at full strength, with the likes of Andres Guardado, Pavel Pardo and Jared Borgetti, as well as the temperamental but in-form Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The Mexicans still have the weapons to overwhelm every team in their group -- and in the tournament, for that matter.

The same wouldn't have been said about Canada before the tournament, but after seeing its attacking stars play such a fluid and intelligent and skillful game against a good Costa Rica team, the Maple Leafs suddenly warrant consideration as title contenders.

The midfield quartet of Julian De Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson, Dwayne De Rosario and Paul Stalteri could be the best in the tournament, and their combination of attacking flair and defensive bite as a unit help Canada's shortcomings on defense. De Guzman's star performance against Costa Rica was particularly inspired, and he looks poised to terrorize defenses at every opportunity.

Unlike Mexico, Canada's toughest group game has already been won, leaving two attack-minded but inferior opponents to conquer in Haiti and Guadeloupe. Before the tournament, Haiti would have been considered a worthy challenger to Canada and Costa Rica for a top-two spot in Group A, but its uninspired performance against Guadeloupe in a 1-1 tie on Wednesday left the impression that the Haitians aren't nearly as good as their results in the past six months would have suggested.

If Canada can keep its momentum and not get caught up in overlooking two beatable opponents, it could be looking at a winnable quarterfinal against a team like Guatemala or El Salvador, followed by an enticing semifinal meeting against the United States.

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Stay positive. Some teams just have other team's numbers. We had Costa Rica's, THE MIGHTY AND FORMIDABLE Guads had ours. Yes I'm embarrassed but we're not done yet. With Friend back and some mental toughness and reorganizing in defence we can bounce back.

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Guadaloupe is well-coached. They have strengths and the coach sets them up -- as a coherent unit -- to excel on those strengths even when opposition gain advantage on their weaknesses (especially on defence). They don't have enough to win the tourney but they are the fly in the ointment and would trouble the bigger teams, too.

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