Sometimes, the early rounds of the Concacaf Gold Cup are a bit of a snooze, as the region’s two powerhouse teams, the United States and Mexico, stomp their opponents on the way to the final.
That has not been the case this year, when there have been enough strange incidents and upsets to set up some intriguing knockout games, beginning on Saturday.
The United States and Mexico have combined to win the last seven editions of the Gold Cup, the regional championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean. Despite the rise of Costa Rica, which made the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup in Brazil, most were predicting another United States-Mexico final in Philadelphia on July 26.
Mexico seems to be doing its best to thwart that. After beating Cuba easily, El Tri (as the Mexican team is known) looked anemic in a 0-0 draw with Guatemala. On Wednesday night, needing a win to finish atop its group, Mexico squandered its game against Trinidad and Tobago in odd circumstances.
Mexico blew a 2-0 lead, then fell behind by 3-2, then seemed to clinch a 4-3 victory when Kenwyne Jones of Trinidad scored an own goal in injury time.
But with seconds left to play, Trinidad got a corner kick. As Joevin Jones of the Chicago Fire prepared to take it, he was pelted with cups and bottles from the largely pro-Mexico crowd in Charlotte, N.C. A green light, apparently shone from a laserlike device in the stands, was clearly visible around his eyes.
Nonetheless, Jones delivered a good outward-curving corner, which Yohance Marshall athletically headed in. Trinidad had earned an unlikely 4-4 draw and won the group.
As a result, Mexico will have to face Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, while Trinidad gets a much easier game against Panama. The two games will be played as a doubleheader at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
The United States’ path to the quarterfinals was smoother, with two wins and a draw. Three of the Americans’ four goals in the round were scored by Clint Dempsey, who lost the captaincy, at least for now, to Michael Bradley after an intemperate dispute with a referee in the United States Open Cup.
The United States will be a heavy favorite over Cuba in their quarterfinal in Baltimore on Saturday. Continuing a decades-long pattern, as many as four Cuban players are missing, perhaps planning to defect. And the Cubans lost their first two games by a combined score of 8-0. So their 1-0 victory over Guatemala, which allowed them to sneak into the quarterfinals as a third-place team, was all the more remarkable.
A similar upset on Saturday seems even more unlikely. The United States has won eight straight over the Cubans and last lost to them in 1947 in Havana.
In the last quarterfinal, Jamaica, which surprisingly won its group over Costa Rica, will face another overachieving Caribbean nation, Haiti.
Four of the eight quarterfinalists in this tournament — the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica — already have berths to face the South American nations in a special centenary edition of the Copa América next year, which will be held for the first time in the United States. This was a highly anticipated event, but its status may now be in question after the federal indictment of top soccer officials alleged that $100 million in bribes were paid for the rights to the tournament.
There is a bigger prize to be won by the Gold Cup champion, however: a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. The United States, which won the 2013 Gold Cup, can claim that spot by repeating as champion next week. If it does not win, it will meet the 2015 champion in a playoff for the Confederations Cup berth.
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Gold Cup quarterfinalists that have secured berths for the Copa América. It is four, not eight. (Two more will qualify for the tournament.)