USA opens quest for Gold Cup crown

National team plays in doubleheader at Jeld-Wen Field

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND — The United States is favored to win its group of the Gold Cup, and would seem a clear-cut favorite to beat Belize in Tuesday's tournament opener.

A 6-0 thrashing of Guatemala on Friday in a pre-tournament friendly would seem to indicate that this USA team led by veterans such as DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan will be too much for little Belize.

Belize has never qualified for the World Cup and will be making its Gold Cup debut at Jeld-Wen Field when it challenges the USA in an 8 p.m. match.

Costa Rica and Cuba meet at 5:30 p.m. to kickoff the doubleheader.

For the United States, today is the kickoff of a three-week journey it hopes will end in a Gold Cup title for the first time since 2007. Mexico beat the USA in the final of both the 2009 and 2011 Gold Cup tournaments.

"Gold Cup is important for us. It's in our home country. We haven't won it the last two tournaments," defender DaMarcus Beasley said. "The players with 100 caps, the players with 50 caps, the players with zero caps" all understand the importance of the Gold Cup.

Two stunning results at the Rose Bowl on Sunday — where Martinique beat Canada and Panama beat Mexico — suggest that the unexpected isn't the impossible in this tournament among a dozen national soccer teams from the region that includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

"It can happen to you any day, losing a game here in the Gold Cup," USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said on Monday.

To avoid such a fate at a spirited — but so far not sold out — Jeld Wen Field, Klinsmann said his team must be both patient and proactive.

"This (Belize) team will make it very difficult for us to break them down, so it's going to be a lot of lot of work ahead of us," Klinsmann said. "We have to move the ball around quickly. We have to pressure them high up. We have to keep the tempo very high."

Beasley, the team captain for this tournament and now playing as a wide back, is the only regular on the Gold Cup roster who participated in the most recent World Cup qualification matches for the USA. For many of the players chosen, the Gold Cup is their chance to prove to Klinsmann that they should be part of the USA team for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

That includes Donovan, who scored twice in Friday's exhibition win and now has a record 51 career goals for the national team, and also tops the all-time list for games played and assists.

The USA Gold Cup roster has 11 current Major League Soccer players, including all three goalkeepers and four of the five forwards. The other group stage games for team USA are on Saturday at Sandy, Utah and on July 16 in Hartford, Conn.

Belize qualified for the Gold Cup by placing fourth in January's Copa Centroamericana tournament. Most of the Belize players play in the their country's pro league. Forward Deon McCauley, who was with the Timbers as a trialist earlier this season, is the team's big offensive threat.

Costa Rica vs. Cuba — Costa Rica — and the Timbers Rodney Wallace — figures to be the other team to automatically advance from Group C to the Gold Cup quarterfinals. In addition to Wallace, Costa Rica has Jairo Arrieta (Columbus), Roy Miller (New York), Álvaro Saborío (Real Salt Lake) on its club. Cuba, which is in the Gold Cup for the seventh time, is a mystery. The most compelling question around the team is how many of it's players might seek political asylum in the United States during the tournament.