The field is bigger than ever and matches will take place outside North America for the first time, but likely not the last
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The 2019 Gold Cup will be a historic edition of the tournament in a number of ways but in the future may be seen as a building block.
It’s the largest-ever tournament, with the field expanded from 12 to 16 teams and squads like Guyana and Bermuda making their debut in the tournament.
This also is the first time matches in the regional competition, which was launched in its current form in 1991, will be played outside of North America. The first doubleheader of games in Costa Rica’s group will take place in Costa Rica’s national stadium on June 16 with Jamaica hosting a doubleheader a day later at Independence Park in Kingston.
While Philippe Moggio, Concacaf’s general secretary, said the tournament will remain mostly in the United States – which has hosted the bulk of matches in all of the previous 14 editions – the door may be ajar for another country to host.
“Our focus obviously is to continue to evaluate how the competition performs. It’s our first time taking it out of North America, which is a big step, and we always want to look at all the opportunities down the road,” he told Goal. “We obviously need to evaluate how 2019 goes and think about the future of it, but I feel, yeah, we want to expand the competition into the region as much as possible and give more of our members the opportunity to host this wonderful competition.”
Concacaf’s Chief of Football, Manolo Zubiria, said between soccer growing more popular and national teams outside of North America finding more success and the upcoming World Cup hosted in all three North American nations, there is a high chance the tournament eventually being either co-hosted or moving outside the U.S.
“The U.S. gives us a platform in terms of infrastructure that not many other countries have. Of course, Mexico does, Canada now is launching a new professional league. It’s on the path to have more football-specific facilities where you could see a Gold Cup going to a model of shared, like the 2026 World Cup between three different countries will be regional,” he said in a separate interview. “The opportunities are probably endless and looking back to the past and then to the future, there’s probably the growth potential of more countries hosting Gold Cup games. That’s ultimately what we want to achieve. We want to bring the Gold Cup to more of our members, providing more access and participation.”
Wednesday night’s event is technically a schedule unveil rather than a draw, with the confederation still drawing up the groups and match locations in order to maximize revenue for the confederation and its commercial partners.
“We’ve seen, obviously, great success in the Gold Cup throughout the years since the first edition in 91, but it’s a big country. It’s very difficult for us to plan out and ensure we’re able to take our teams to the fan bases where they’re able to enjoy their team,” Moggio said. “If you have a draw, it’s difficult for fans to really follow and maximize the opportunity.
“For us to not be able to have, for example, Mexico play in a market where you can have the most Mexican fans enjoy that matchup is difficult. And yeah, the reality is that Gold Cup is our most important commercial engine that fuels the development of sport throughout the region, so maximizing the commercial opportunity is important behind the competition.”
Concacaf drawing up the groups should at least produce some interesting matchups, and the changes made to the tournament rules are putting plenty of control in the hands of the players actually putting the ball in motion. Those players will be the best each country has to offer, unlike the 2017 edition in which Mexico sent an alternative team after taking part in the Confederations Cup.
That, along with the expanded field, new hosting sites and an increased off-field push for the tournament, has confederation officials bullish about the tournament getting plenty of attention this summer even with plenty of other options for soccer fans to enjoy.
“We’re incredibly excited about this unveiling. This is the first time really we’ve been creating so much visibility behind Gold Cup with all the planning and announcements we’ve done over the past nine months,” Moggio said. “We think it’s going to get great traction and this competition is going to not only be a great experience for our fans but also our partners who are helping us raise the visibility of this tournament every edition going forward and we’ll continue to grow into 21, 23 and beyond.”