At the third instalment of the Women's Gold Cup, two-time world and Olympic champion USA will be prohibitive favourites, considering they are the only side to have won the competition in its history. Having won the old CONCACAF Women's Championship in 1991, 1993 and 1994 and the Gold Cup in 2000 and 2002 after the tournament was renamed, the Americans also have the distinction of never losing a match (in 22 tries) in a CONCACAF women's tournament.
The USA, led by still-unbeaten head coach Greg Ryan, will be hoping scoring sensation Abby Wambach has made a full recovery from a recent injury picked up at the Peace Queen Cup in Korea Republic, where captain Kristine Lilly scored three goals to bring her international caps record to 317 and her goals tally to 116.
"This is a strong US team," said coach Ryan. "I have now had the chance to see all of the players in pretty much every situation since I took over in 2005, and this tournament and this team now represent the end-product of a lot of hard work."
However, a powerful Canada outfit, led by head coach Evan Pellerud, will be keen to snip the Americans' unbeaten string, with a side capable of upsetting the hosts' apple cart. Second-place finishers at the 2002 Women's Gold Cup, they have firmly established themselves as the region's closest challengers to the US in recent years. The combative and physical Canucks will fancy their chances of causing an upset.
Unfortunately, they will have to do so without standouts Charmaine Hooper, Sharolta Nonen and Christine Latham who are engaged in legal proceedings against the Canadian FA and, as a result, were not named in the side. They will, however, have the goalscoring antics of forward Christine Sinclair to count on. Pellerud recently referred to the striker's finishing prowess as "poisonous", and the boss will need her to be at her lethal best.
Both the USA and Canada have both been given a direct bye to the semi-final round of the six-team competition due to their vaunted status in the women's football. **High hopes
**The first-round of matches will pit Mexico - the region's up-and-coming 'third' side - against Trinidad and Tobago, while Panama square off with Jamaica in Miami's Tropical Park Stadium. Both matches will take place on 19 November.
Mexico will be the fancied side in their tangle with Trinidad & Tobago, with the attacking responsibilities falling on 15-year-old sensation Verónica Charlyn Corral and Spain-based striking star Maribel Dominguez. Having participated in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, the 2002, 2004 and 2006 FIFA U-20 Women's World Championships and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the Mexicans - led by the experienced hand of Leonardo Cuellar past Nicaragua and El Salvador to qualify for this year's event - will be a force to be reckoned with.
However, T&T will be no pushovers. One of only two teams to have taken part in all CONCACAF Women's Championships (the other being Canada), the islanders played five games in order to qualify, posting a 100 per cent record.
The other first round match will see a wide-open clash between rapidly rising Panama and Caribbean powers Jamaica. The Panamanians will be bolstered by an amazing performance as hosts of the Central American triangular Group 2, which saw them edge out Guatemala and Costa Rica without conceding a goal. The 2006 instalment will be Lizandro Barbaran's ladies' second consecutive appearance at a Women's Gold Cup.
Jamaica are led by Vin Blaine and, like Panama, will be desperate to pick up their first win at a Women's Gold Cup. With some impressive performances in their Caribbean qualifying section, the sky looks to be the limit for the reggae girlz, having outscored their opponents in qualifying by an outstanding 36-0, not shipping a goal in 484 minutes.
The winner of the Panama-Jamaica match will go on to meet Canada in the semi-finals at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, while the winner of the Mexico-T&T contest will face off against the fancied USA.
The final and third-place match will take place on 26 November, with both finalists automatically qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup in China next year. The third-place finishers will then go on to play Japan in a home/away play-off for a potential third CONCACAF spot at China 2007.