SEATTLE — Seattle proved a lively host for international soccer a month ago when the U.S. men’s national team visited.
It’s already time to do it again, as federations from across North America, Central America and the Caribbean are in town for a CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader Thursday at CenturyLink Field.
Panama and Martinique, the two winners from Sunday’s opening games in Group A, play first at 5:30 p.m., followed by Mexico and Canada, the two losers, at 8 p.m.
While each team comes in with a unique storyline, the spotlight will shine heaviest and brightest on Mexico, a regional powerhouse that has hardly lived up to its vaunted reputation this year.
The team lost Sunday to Panama, 3-2, on the heels of an underwhelming 1-0-5 run in FIFA World Cup qualifying. As a result, coach Jose Manuel de la Torre appears at great risk of losing his job, perhaps unless his team wins the Gold Cup.
“If you don’t want it to hurt you, it’s not going to hurt you,” said de la Torre of outside criticism through an interpreter. “When I got this position I knew exactly the challenges that I took. ... If I paid attention to (what the media says), I would be sick, I would be in the hospital. That’s why I’m concerned with my job and what I’m doing and planning to move forward.”
Asked if a loss to Canada would result in being fired, de la Torre responded: “I never think about losing.”
Downtrodden Canada might be the perfect opponent for a rebound, as the neighbors to the north are coming off a shocking defeat to tiny Martinique.
Colin Miller, Canada’s interim coach, noted the federation is in a state of transition after being eliminated from World Cup qualifying last year. Plus, the team was dealt a massive blow when midfielder Will Johnson, a standout with the Portland Timbers, had to leave due to illness. A sick Russell Teibert of the Vancouver Whitecaps might also miss the game.
Panama, which suffered a 2-0 road loss to the U.S. here on June 11, came into the tournament on similar vibes. The federation went 0-2-1 last month in World Cup qualifying but coach Julio Dely Valdes said his team is using the Gold Cup as a means to restore confidence.
That reward came in the big win against Mexico, and another over Martinique would clinch a quarterfinal berth.
Martinique, an overseas region of France, proved no pushover Sunday despite a population of roughly 400,000.
The team’s main motivation this tournament?
“Keep dreaming big,” said coach Patrick Cavelan, through an interpreter.