Leon Bailey & Bermuda Two Things To Watch At Concacaf Gold Cup

Concacaf instituted several changes to this year's Gold Cup, which kicks off on June 15 at the Rose Bowl. Most notably, the tournament expanded from 12 teams to 16, creating four groups of four teams, meaning the top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout round.

Gone is the ability to make changes to your squad after the group stage, meaning the 23 players named to the teams on Thursday morning will be the only players taking part in the tournament. And while the tournament is once again being hosted in the U.S., Group B will have their first game day in Costa Rica, while Group C will have theirs in Jamaica. 

The U.S. will be looking to retain their title which they won in 2017 over Jamaica. However, the Carribean side has made the past two finals and are looking to become the first country not named the U.S. or Mexico to win the tournament since Canada in 2000.

Before the tournament kicks off, we pick out a player and team to watch for during the Gold Cup.

Player To Watch: Leon Bailey, Jamaica

Bailey has had quite the story, making his way from Jamaica to stardom in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen. Getting a start with K.R.C. Genk in Belgium, the winger moved to Leverkusen in January 2017 at the age of 19. Since then, Bailey has made 82 appearances in all competitions, scoring 17 goals for the German side.

His breakout season came in 2017-18, when Bailey began to get linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe. This past season wasn't quite as fruitful, but Bailey remained a fixture in the side for Die Werkself.

But at the same time, Bailey continuously rebuffed call-ups from Jamaica. Reasons for turning down the chance to represent his country ranged from the standard of the national team to wanting to have his brother called up alongside him. Finally, though, Bailey accepted the call for the Gold Cup, pledging his best for the Reggae Boyz.

Bailey didn't play a part in Wednesday's friendly win over the U.S. at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. And Jamaica don't have another friendly before they start their participation in the Gold Cup. So Bailey's debut could come in Jamaica when the Reggae Boyz face off against Honduras in Kingston in their first game of the Gold Cup.

Jamaica have come close to winning their first Gold Cup in the past two editions. In 2015, they lost in the final to Mexico. They were back in the final in 2017 but fell to the U.S. this time. They bring plenty of experience to the tournament with their squad, but can Bailey be the difference between a runner up finish and Jamaica's first title?

Country To Watch: Bermuda

One country will be making their debut at the 2019 Gold Cup: Bermuda, the tiny British Overseas Territory in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The Gombey Warriors qualified for their first Gold Cup by causing quite the surprise in the qualifying stages of the inaugural Concacaf Nations League. 

Bermuda won three games out of four to not only qualify for League A of the Nations League but to also earn the right to play in their first Gold Cup. After an opening loss to Aruba, Bermuda beat Sint Maarten and then caused upsets against El Salvador and the Dominican Republic to finish fifth in Nations League qualifying. 

Eight players in the squad for the Gold Cup ply their trade in Bermuda. However, forward Nahki Wells has quite the resume for a Bermuda player and will try to help the island nation cause an upset at the Gold Cup. Wells is on the books with Premier League side Burnley but spent the past season on loan with Championship side Queens Park Rangers.

Wells tallied nine goals in 43 games during the 2018-2019 season for QPR; he made nine Premier League appearances for Burnley in 2017-2018, where he moved after helping Huddersfield Town get promoted to England's top division.

Fans of MLS might recognize the name Zeiko Lewis, a midfielder for the Gombey Warriors. Lewis was drafted by the New York Red Bulls in 2017 and spent the season on loan with NYRB II. After spending a year playing in Iceland, Lewis returned to the U.S. this year with the Charleston Battery.

Not much should be expected of Bermuda in this tournament, but they did manage to find themselves in a favorable group. Costa Rica are the clear favorites in Group B, but Haiti and Nicaragua are two teams that Bermuda could get a result against.

With the expansion to 16 teams, third place teams can no longer qualify for the knockout stage. So Bermuda will need to find a way to get past two of the other teams in their group, which, if accomplished, would surely be the biggest surprise of the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. 

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