The 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup is nearly upon us as 16 nations are set to square off for the title in a revamped format. Although Mexico and the United States are once again the favorites — only Canada have added a title — the 15th edition of the tournament features a number of intriguing storylines and Concacaf play is always full of surprises.
Here are five players to keep your eye throughout the tournament.
1. Omar Browne | Panama
The Montreal Impact are currently second in the Eastern Conference in Major League Soccer, and much of their early success is due to the play of Omar Browne, who has two goals and two assists in his first seven appearances. Browne made a name for himself in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League for Panamanian outfit Independiente de la Chorrera in wins against Toronto FC and Sporting KC. He then joined Montreal on loan in April and wasted no time in demonstrating what he can do in MLS by scoring a game-winner in his debut.
Panama have been a thorn in the United States’ side in recent years, and they will meet once again in the group stage. Browne only made his international debut a year ago and has three caps under his belt, so he will be eager to utilize his first big stage for Panama to show his craftiness with the ball at his feet and lethality in front of goal.
2. Kevin Parsemain | Martinique
Martinique have their work cut out for them in a group with Mexico, Canada, and Cuba. The nation’s all-time leading scorer may not be a household name, but his output on the international level – 31 goals in 54 appearances - has been nothing short of remarkable and his Group A opponents should be on high alert.
The 31-year-old is quite the journeyman and will be hoping he can harness his experience to lead the team to a possible second place finish in the group ahead of Canada and Cuba, assuming Mexico takes the top spot. He began his professional career for Club Franciscain in Martinique before suiting up in the French lower divisions for a few years. He later spent time at the Seattle Sounders before playing a year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he ultimately made a return to his home country in 2016.
Martinique gave the United States a scare at the last Gold Cup in a narrow 3-2 loss, and guess who was at the double for the island nation? None other than Parsemain.
3. Nahki Wells | Bermuda
Bermuda are a trendy pick for a team to make a bit of noise at this year’s tournament, and rightfully so. The small island nation known for its pink-sand beaches is making its first appearance at the Gold Cup and has several players on roster who could cause damage in Group B and lead them to the knockout round, including Burnley’s Nahki Wells.
The 29-year-old has an impressive resume and in recent years has been a solid option in the English Championship for Huddersfield Town and Queens Park Rangers, where he spent the previous season on loan. While 11 appearances isn’t the biggest sample size, seven goals for his country in that time is a healthy return. Bermuda will rely on his nose for goal, as well as his ability to set up teammates and work rate as they look to finish in the top half of a group with Haiti, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.
⚽️ GOALS ⚽️ Here's what Nahki Wells had to offer in front of goal last season... pic.twitter.com/sPsOT3XQc2— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) August 31, 2017
4. Rodolfo Pizarro | Mexico
Despite missing numerous stars such as Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Héctor Herrera, Jesús “Tecatito” Corono, Hirving Lozano, and Carlos Vela, Mexico enter the tournament as the clear-cut favorites and have a roster brimming with talent. Rodolfo Pizarro may be the beneficiary of some of those absences, but El Tri aren’t exactly taking a huge step backward in fielding him alongside striker Raúl Jiménez in their 4-3-3 formation. Pizarro is not a true winger — he normally lines up as a central attacking midfield for his club — but his coolness on the ball, dribbling ability, vision, and versatility have allowed him to slot in at several positions in recent years.
🇲🇽 Jesús Gallardo ➡️ Rodolfo Pizarro ⚽️— Joga Bonito (@Jasoninho10) June 6, 2019
A goal made in Monterrey to give #Mexico the 2-1 lead against #Venezuela in Atlanta. Characteristically cool finish by Pizarro, casual outside of the foot flick to add a goal to his earlier assist.#MEXVEN #ElTri #Rayados pic.twitter.com/P82aIdPlKU
Pizarro is coming off a stellar first year for Mexican outfit Monterrey, winners of the Concacaf Champions League title. The 25-year-old carried the highest interleague Liga MX transfer fee in history ($16 million) just a year ago when he made the switch from Chivas to Rayados. Jiménez may earn most of the plaudits for Mexico offensively, but Pizarro could use his controversial omission from Mexico’s 2018 World Cup roster as fuel to prove he deserves to play a key role under new head coach Tata Martino.
5. Zach Steffen | United States
Several key players may have been missing, but morale is at a premium for the Stars and Stripes following tune-up losses to Jamaica and Venezuela. Questions abound concerning the roster selection and whether or not Gregg Berhalter’s system can lead to success in his first competition at the helm. Christian Pulisic is the most talented player and an obvious choice for who to watch in the tournament. Nevertheless, much of the focus will be on Zach Steffen between the sticks at a pivotal point in his career.
On the brink of a transfer to Manchester City — who will then loan the goalkeeper to German outfit Fortuna Düsseldorf — Steffen will need to come up big for the Yanks if they are to defend their Gold Cup title. As Harrison Hamm noted in a recent piece for FloFC, no position is more illustrative of the “Lost Generation” than goalkeeper, and the lack of real competition behind Steffen for the starting role is worrisome. The pressure on Berhalter will quickly mount if Steffen doesn’t perform at a high level, particularly in light of Bill Hamid’s omission from the roster.
Steffen certainly will have a chip on his shoulder, too, following gaffes in each of the two recent friendlies. Against Venezuela a poor decision to send a pass from the penalty box resulted in a goal for the opponents, one of three first-half goals as the U.S. were stomped easily. But now the Europe-bound keeper has a chance to redeem himself and head across the pond in form; there's no better stage for him to do that than in the Gold Cup.