Now that the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage is complete and the quarterfinal pairings are known, CONCACAF.com sat down with CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani to get his thoughts on the 14th edition of the biennial competition.
Q: What were you impressions of the group stage?
Montagliani: The group stage’s competitive level really stood out. There was never a sense that a team didn’t belong in a match or couldn’t compete. Each one of the 12 squads had something to offer. Whether it was their overall dynamism of play or outstanding performances by individual players, the fans were given a reason to watch and get excited about the Gold Cup.
There were moments that make a tournament special and remain in your memory.
It was great to see Nicaragua score for the first time in its Gold Cup history, when Carlos Chavarria struck – what I think is one of the best goals of the tournament – against Panama.
How about when Martinique fell behind the U.S. 2-0 and then rallied to level, before falling by a single goal? The sense that an upset was possible made all fans take notice.
It is great to see El Salvador and Honduras return to the quarterfinals after they fell short two years ago. Canada hadn’t advanced beyond the group stage since 2009, but it is back among the last eight,
Also, five of the six teams involved in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup are playing in this Gold Cup. All of them earned quarterfinal berths. It demonstrates the strengths of those squads, underlining their overall quality.
Q: Which players stood out to you?
Montagliani: One of the significant aspects of this Gold Cup is that new stars have been given an opportunity to emerge.
A perfect example is Alphonso Davies, a 16-year-old Canadian, who is the joint-top scorer with Kevin Parsemain of Martinique on three goals. Panama’s Miguel Camargo, just 23, has made a great impression on the tournament with a goal and two assists. Defender Edson Alvarez of Mexico, 19-years-old, was playing in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and the FIFA U-20 World Cup earlier this year. He scored his first international goal in the win over Curacao.
I don’t want to forget the Gold Cup veterans. Bryan Ruiz, the 2016 CONCACAF Player of the Year, earned his 100th cap in Costa Rica’s second group match against Canada. He has competed in the Gold Cup since 2005. One of CONCACAF’s greatest players. We really enjoy watching his talents, his commitment and love for the game.
Jamaica’s Darren Mattocks also deserves special mention. He scored in the 2015 semifinals and final, and has continued hitting the back of the net in this edition, striking twice in the group stage.
These players are just a few who have made this Gold Cup special, but, in reality, every team has brought something positive to the table from a personnel perspective.
Q: What can we expect in the quarterfinals?
Montagliani: I expect the quarterfinals to be incredibly competitive. This Gold Cup can be won by any of the remaining eight teams. Of course, Mexico and the U.S. have combined to capture 12 of the 13 previous editions. Nobody would be surprised if one or both of them made it to the final on July 26 in Santa Clara, California.
That being said, would you discount Costa Rica’s chances? I certainly wouldn’t, especially looking at all the talent on its roster.
Panama was runner-up in 2013 and finished third two years ago. Is it ready to take the next step? I believe the Panamanians have all the components to make for a championship-winning side. Gabriel Torres, joint-top scorer in the 2013 Gold Cup, has scored two goals already. His experience and production, combined with the playmaking of Camargo and leadership of Gabriel Gomez, as well as the intensity of Anibal Godoy, are more than enough for another run to the final.
Many of the players that helped Jamaica reach the 2015 final are not on the current roster, but the level of success remains impressively similar. It is exciting to see forward Romario Williams navigate around the net. Andre Blake is an incredible goalkeeper. Plus watching players like Kemar Lawrence, Je-Vaughn Watson and Jermaine Taylor battle for the jersey and country is very inspiring.
I mentioned Canada, El Salvador and Honduras earlier. Each of those sides have game changers, impact performers. Davies and Arfield for Canada, Zelaya and Bonilla for El Salvador, and Quioto and Elis for Honduras. They are top players, who – given the slightest of opportunities – can make the difference in a final result.
I can’t wait to watch and I’m sure the fans are right there with me in that sentiment.
Q: How is CONCACAF raising awareness on diversity and inclusion through the "Let's Live in a State of GOAL" campaign?
Montagliani: Let's Live in a State of GOAL is a comprehensive educational campaign aimed at promoting diversity, acceptance, and respect throughout the tournament. We are proud to be joining forces with Special Olympics North America and UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean region to carry out advocacy and communication activities on different platforms to further raise awareness about inclusion.
Additionally, we are working with local organizations to bring children closer to the game, while promoting core values.
A fundamental pillar of this platform is the "Stadium We All Want" initiative. The great thing about it is that everyone can play a role. We want to encourage fans, players, as well as key stakeholders, to join our effort in building a more welcoming stadium environment for all.
We are specifically targeting inappropriate behavior that can negatively impact the stadium experience for fans.
Our focus is on raising awareness that certain chants can be offensive to some and are against the unifying nature of our sport and our shared values of acceptance and respect.