StubHub Center (pictured) will host the opening Group B doubleheader at the 2015 CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship on October 2, 2015. (Photo: Mexsport)
CARSON, California – The 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship continues Friday with Group B opening doubleheader at the StubHub Center.
Friday – October 2, 2015
Honduras v Haiti, 9:00 p.m. ET
Mexico v Costa Rica, 11:30 p.m. ET
The competition started yesterday with a Group A twin bill in Kansas City, Kansas, as the United States jumped to the top of the table with a 3-1 win over Canada, while Panama and Cuba knotted at 1-1.
The tournament will crown the Confederation champion at Under-23 level, qualify two teams (semifinals winners) directly to the 2016 Olympic Football Tournament and send another (winner of the match for third place) to a playoff against Colombia for an additional berth.
Here’s a look at the Group B competitors:
Although Costa Rica has not advanced to the finals of a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament since 2004, it is targeting a fourth Olympic appearance. The Ticos earned a spot in this year’s competition after edging in Guatemala (agg: 1-0) in a two-legged playoff for Central America’s third and last berth. Although it scored only three goals in five preliminary contests, Costa Rica demonstrated strong defensively sensibilities over that same stretch, conceding twice and posting four shutouts. Forward Ronald Matarrita, who netted the lone goal against the Guatemalans, is expected to shoulder much of the offensive load. Not to be forgotten, though, is attacker David Ramirez. The 22-year-old standout already has national team experience, scoring in a 2-2 draw against Jamaica in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. He also struck in Saprissa’s 4-0 win over DirecTV W Connection in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League on August 20, 2015.
Player to Track: MF/FW John Jairo Ruiz (FC Dnipro/Ukraine)
Haiti will look to continue its effort of climbing the competitive ladder by bringing a strong roster to the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship. The contingent is led by no other than forward Duckens Nazon, who scored both of the senior side’s goals at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup (1 v Panama & Honduras) and then followed it up by scoring in both legs of the successful 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying, third-round series against Grenada (agg: 6-1). His presence will be sure to lift a squad that already boasts the talented attacking trio of Woodensky Cherenfant, Jhon Benchy Estama and Jonel Desire. Cherenfant led Les Grenadiers to the 2015 Caribbean Olympic Qualifying tournament title, netting a team-high three goals. In that same competition, Desire struck twice, including the game-winner in the final (1-0 win v Cuba). Estama made a name for himself during the 2015 Caribbean Club Championship with Don Bosco FC, notching five of his six goals in a 10-0 win over the Bahamas’ Lyford Cay.
Player to Track: DF Alex Christian (Boavista/Portugal)
Honduras required only two games to seal a CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship spot, defeating Belize (5-0) and Guatemala (2-1). Although its path to the finals was a short one, the Catrachos hope their stay in the United States lasts as long as the one that earned them a spot in the 2012 Olympic Games, when they reached the CONCACAF final before falling to Mexico, 2-1, after extra time. That talented squad has given way to another extremely precocious contingent. A returnee, though, is giving the Catrachos its greatest hope for success. Forward Antony Lozano, who tied current Motagua star Eddie Hernandez for a team-best two goals in the last competition, already has valuable experience with the senior national team and is currently taking the Spanish second division by storm. Since being loaned to Tenerife from Olimpia, the 22-year-old has struck for a team-best four goals in six games, including a brace in a 3-0 win over Mirandes on September 27, 2015. They could be on the field at the same time with Olimpia’s Alberth Elis, who has netted twice in three 2015/16 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League games (both against the Seattle Sounders in separate games). The 19-year-old also scored four goals in the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and found the back of the net in a 5-0 win over Belize in a Central American Olympic qualifier on August 11, 2015.
Player to Track: MF Joshua Nieto (Motagua/Honduras)
In the last five CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships, only two teams have lifted the trophy: Honduras twice and, of course, defending champion Mexico on three occasions. This version of the under-23 Tricolor, however, has big shoes to fill. Three years ago, the Mexicans blazed through the competition with a perfect 5-0-0 record, topping Honduras in the final (2-1 aet), while scoring 16 goals and conceding a paltry three. Months later, that the same side – with the addition of overage players such as superstar forward Oribe Peralta – captured the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament. Does the current side have the same potential for the ultimate success? Judging from the conglomeration of talent on the roster, a repeat performance is certainly within reach. Forward Hirving Lozano is certainly one to watch. The 20-year-old was instrumental in helping Mexico win the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, meriting a place in the tournament’s Best XI team and sharing Golden Boot honors the USA’s Romain Gall (5 goals each). He also found the back of the net once in the 2014/15 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League (SCCL) with Pachuca. Erick Gutierrez -- Lozano’s Tuzo teammate – has an opportunity grow his international reputation even further. The supremely resourceful midfielder – also named to the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship Best XI squad – netted three goals in the 2014/15 SCCL. A returnee from the 2012 side is Houston Dynamo forward Erick Torres, who also helped guide Mexico to the 2014 Central American & Caribbean Games title with five goals.
Player to Track: DF Carlos Salcedo (Guadalajara/Mexico)