CLEVELAND, Ohio – For years, the United States and Mexico have dominated the CONCACAF Gold Cup landscape, combining to win all but one of the 13 tournaments that have been played.
The gap in the region, however, is closing, according to U.S. coach Bruce Arena.
“All the Central American and Caribbean teams have improved. If anything comes out of this tournament for me, I think that’s a real positive for CONCACAF because you see now the small countries have elevated their football,” Arena said. “They’re much better. It’s really encouraging to see how the game has grown in CONCACAF because that’s going to be important to help grow the sport in our part of the world.”
Arena has seen that first hand in Group B, where Martinique defeated Nicaragua and rallied from a two-goal deficit before falling 3-2 to the United States.
Nicaragua had a much better showing in a tight 2-1 loss to Panama in their second game of the group stage, while Panama knotted the Americans.
“I think the players in the Central American and Caribbean countries are more experienced now,” commented Arena. “They bring these experiences they have at the club level back to their national team.”
And that’s not just the case in Group B solely. Through two matchdays, there wasn’t one team in any of the three groups with six points. Arena credits advancements in coaching, as well.
“I think they’re better coached,” Arena finished. “I thought Panama and Martinique were both very well prepared to play against the U.S. The games I’ve seen in the other groups I would say the same. It’s a real positive statement to say for the countries in CONCACAF. The competition has been close and that’s a real positive.”