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SOCCER FEVER

El Salvador goalkeeper Benji Villalobos, left, punches the ball during a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match against Mexico in San Diego, Sunday, July 9, 2017.
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The great thing about the CONCACAF Gold Cup biennial tournaments is the showcasing of live, quality soccer throughout the USA, which means firsthand exposure of the excitement and vigor of the game to millions of soccer lovers across the country, including the millions of expatiates from countries around the world, and in this situation, particularly fans from Central America and the Caribbean, who will see their national teams on display. Also, very importantly, it gives the U. S. professional league, MLS, a preview for expansion viability.

Another great benefit of the CONCACAF Gold Cup is the opportunities for player development as young MLS players represent their national teams. As the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup competition for regional supremacy among nations from Central America, the Caribbean and North America unfolded last weekend, Friday, July 7, quality soccer came to three United States cities, and by tournament’s end on July 26, fans in 14 United States cities and millions more on television would have experienced the fervor and creativity of the game. Also, 51 players from 18 MLS teams would have represented their countries, with an eye for playing in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The excitement began at a sold out, 30,000 capacity Red Bull Arena (Harrison, NJ) on Friday night with a Group A double header when Canada defeated debutants French Guiana, 4-2, and in the nightcap, amidst a deafening and electric atmosphere created by fans, Costa Rica got past Honduras in a masterful game as both teams, inspired by their supporters, played one of the most exciting Gold Cup games.

The excitement started well before Honduras and Costa Rica took the field to renew their on-going Central American rivalry. Thousands of Hondurans started their deafening chants of “Honduras, “Honduras”, “Honduras” while they waved the blue and white national flags from every corner of the stadium; not to be outdone, the Costa Ricans had their say as they countered with chants of “Costa Rica, “Costa Rica”, Costa Rica” as blue and red flags swirled in the warm stadium air. The frenzied atmosphere continued throughout the match, peaking at near misses and disputed referees calls and rising to a tremendous crescendo when Costa Rica’s Marco Urena scored the only goal of the game in the 39th minute off an assist from Rodney Wallace; the two MLS players connected for the Costa Rica victory. Urena plays for the San Jose Earthquakes and Wallace for local team, New York City FC. The defeat for Honduras was harsh since it was the better team for most of the game.

The Canada-French Guiana game had its moments as well. As the more experienced Canadians forge ahead, 3-0, in the 60th minute, it seemed that the French were out of it, but a brief shower gave the Frenchmen life as the debutants scored twice in three minutes when Roy Contout connected with a wonderful header off a corner kick in the 69th minute and Sloan Privat, in a crowded Canadian goal area, poked the ball over the goal line at the 71st minute to narrow the lead to a goal, 3-2; but the teenage sensation from Canada, Alphonso Davies, who also plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS, scored his second goal on the night in the 86th from a breakaway, as he beat the on-rushing French goalkeeper, Donovan Leon, to secure the win for Canada.

Davies is the talk of the tournament so far; at 16 years old, he is the youngest player to score in Gold Cup history and the first player, worldwide, born after 2000 to score in a full international game. Davies, of Nigerian descent, is also the youngest Canadian to score for the national team. MLS players scored seven of the 17 goals scored in all the weekend games.

In other opening weekend contests, witnessed by sell-out crowds, Group B play saw the USA and Panama played to a 1-1 draw, while Martinique defeated Nicaragua, 2-0, both games at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. In Group C at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Mexico topped El Salvador, 3-1, and Jamaican bettered Curacao, 2-0. A good CONCACAF Gold Cup opening for soccer fans throughout the country and the MLS and its players.

Posted 12:00 am, July 12, 2017
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