Gold Cup favorites Mexico, USA have challenging summer ahead

NEW YORK -- Both Mexico and the United States will have multiple challenges this summer, and that doesn't even take into account another potential meeting for the CONCACAF Gold Cup title.

The two are in the midst of the final round of World Cup qualifying, with Mexico having to adjust to Javier Aguirre, the team's fourth different manager in less than a year.

In addition to qualifying, the United States also must play in the Confederations Cup, and all of this on top of the biennial CONCACAF nations championship.

"We have a challenging summer ahead of us with three major international competitions going on, so it will be an excellent opportunity to further scrutinize our player pool as we continue to build our team towards qualifying and competing in the 2010 FIFA World Cup," USA manager Bob Bradley said.

By comparison, Aguirre must stabilize a team that has won only three of its last 10 matches, two of the victories coming in friendlies and its only competitive victory at home.

"This year's Gold Cup is key for the Mexican national team," Aguirre said. "Apart from being the most well-known competition in the region, it will be part of a very important summer for our team, which has not only the Gold Cup, but also two World Cup qualifying matches and friendly games, finishing with a World Cup qualifying game against our archrival, the United States, at the Estadio Azteca on August 12."

At the Gold Cup, Mexico will open against Gold Cup debutante Nicaragua and then face Central American champion Panama on July 9 in Houston, where it should have overwhelming support and likely will have its toughest first-round test.

"We have faced Panama's national team on many occasions. This team has grown a lot in the past years, and it plays well," Aguirre said. "In a stadium like Houston, where there are a lot of fans, it will be important to get a good result in order to not leave everything up to the third game."

The Americans will face Grenada, Honduras and Haiti in Group B, opening on July 4, American Independence Day, in Seattle. The city, which was home to a team for 10 years in the old North American Soccer League, has seen a revival of the sport this year with the launch of the latest team in Major League Soccer, the Sounders FC.

"We are thrilled with the opportunity to open the Gold Cup in Seattle," Bradley said. "The city has a great soccer tradition, and it has been very exciting to how the community has embraced the Sounders. We often speak of the pride and humility we feel in representing the United States, and there is no better way to start the tournament then on a day that all Americans share in those feelings."

This year's Gold Cup will be the 10th since the tournament was inaugurated in 1991, and for the first time will be played in 13 cities across the United States, beginning in Los Angeles July 3 and finishing July 26 outside New York.

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