With the group stages done and dusted, the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup kicks into high gear this weekend. The big names – USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras – are through to the last eight, and so are a few outside hopefuls in the form of Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and El Salvador.

The first two quarter-finals kick off on Saturday 20 July in the scorching summertime heat of Atlanta, Georgia. Defending champions Mexico, who faltered in the group stages, will be feeling another kind of heat too as they face a resurgent Trinidad and Tobago. The islanders have been inconsistent thus far, but they found a speedy, direct rhythm in their final group game, a 2-0 win over Honduras in which captain and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones scored twice.

Mexico boss Chepo de la Torre is under immense pressure as his ‘A’ side continue to struggle in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying and were bounced early from the recent FIFA Confederations Cup. So a Gold Cup loss in their opener against Panama did little to placate impatient fans. Even so, the new-look El Tri – with all the players coming from the domestic league and most under the age of 25 – will be the heavy favourites on Saturday, provided they can keep their nerves from jangling.

The other game that day pits group winners Panama against Cuba, who just barely snuck through the knockout rounds with one win from three. The Panamanians, who are still alive in Brazil 2014 qualifying, are looking likely bets for a run deep into the Gold Cup, with coach Julio Dely Valdes hoping to repeat the feat of 2005 when the Canaleros reached the final. Caribbean champions Cuba, for their part, are enjoying the rarefied air and keen to spring a surprise with their impressive short-passing game through midfield.

USA eager to keep up form
Sunday sees the host Americans take on El Salvador in Baltimore. The Stars and Stripes are in rampaging form, winning all of their three group games by a combined score of 11-2. Predatory striker Chris Wondolowski is the poaching spear-head of Jurgen Klinsmann’s attack-minded squad, that also includes Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan. “We’re here to win this tournament,” Wondolowski, of San Jose Earthquakes fame and last year’s top-scorer in MLS, told FIFA.com. “It’s been too long since an American team has won it.”

It’s a stern warning for the Salvadorans, who needed a bit of luck to slip past Haiti in their group. Good fortune aside, though, the Central Americans boast one of the most talented players at the tournament in Rodolfo Zelaya. The 25-year-old Alianza creator has the ability to turn a game on its head in a split second, something the USA defence – which has looked decidedly shaky at times – would do well to recognise.

Sunday’s other game is a Central American classic between Costa Rica and Honduras. While both teams are using experimental line-ups, bragging rights in their sub-region – not to mention a place in the semi-finals – are on the line. The Ticos will continue to rely on a strong defensive spine up through midfield, marshaled by the veteran Celso Borges, while the Hondurans hope for attacking spark, and a bit of magic, from their impressive wide-man Andy Najar.

Once the weekend’s winners are known, the semi-finals will take place on 24 July in Texas, with the final coming four days later in Chicago.

We’re here to win this tournament.

USA striker Chris Wondolowski