By Jeremy Villanueva
FC Dallas may not have a home game tonight, but Toyota Stadium will be packed as four international sides begin their Gold Cup journey.
Panama, Haiti, Honduras and the United States were welcomed to Toyota Stadium and Toyota Soccer Center this week as they prepare for tonight’s doubleheader.
“It’s fantastic to see the community involved in the games and to see a training ground full of people coming to see the national teams train and having competition,” FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja said. “…[It’s a] real cup, so it’s great to see how our community can take that opportunity. I like it.”
Five players will represent FCD in the tournament, including forward Blas Perez who will essentially play a home game tonight as his Panamanian squad takes on Haiti. Defender Je-Vaughn Watson, forward Tesho Akindele and midfielder Kyle Bekker open their group stage matches for their respective nations Wednesday. Defender Moises Hernandez will join in on the tournament in Guatemala’s first match Thursday.
“The first time they’re going to play in a Gold Cup for Tesho and Mo means a lot for the club to see how these guys are gaining their spot in the international stage,” Pareja said. “With Blas, Je-Vaughn and Kyle, this is the same. We’re still proud to have players who are important in their national team roster.”
Panama and Haiti will kick off the tournament at 6:00 p.m. tonight(FOX Sports 2) followed by the US and Honduras at 8:30 p.m(FOX Sports 1).
CONCACAF unveiled today the provisional 35-man rosters submitted by the 12 associations participating in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and FC Dallas players are all over the rosters. FCD is tied with Houston for most players named to the provisional rosters with six. (Canada: Tesho Akindele, Kyle Bekker; Guatemala: Moises Hernandez; Jamaica: Je-Vaughn Watson; Panama: Rolando Escobar, Blas Perez).
It's important to note these rosters are not final. They will be narrowed down to 23 players ten business days before the tournament is played July 7-26 beginning right here at Toyota Stadium with a doubleheader featuring Panama vs Haiti and the United States vs Honduras.
The twelve national teams qualified for this year’s tournament are, in alphabetical order: Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States.
The USMNT is returning to Toyota Stadium for the first time since March 28, 2007 in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup curtain-raiser and it's both a long overdue return and a well-deserved reward for the Dallas sports fans who have taken soccer support to another level in the last year.
You sold out Toyota Stadium for the largest American crowd to watch the USWNT in 2014, packed downtown Dallas three times for USMNT 2014 World Cup watch parties, set all-time attendance records at Toyota Stadium for FC Dallas games and brought the support for FCD to a new level during our MLS Cup Playoff run and now you have a red, white and blue matchup to look forward to this summer.
While the USMNT has played twice at Toyota Stadium, it is fair to say neither match was the marquee game we will see at Toyota Stadium on July 7th as the national team begins their 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup quest which Jurgen Klinsmann has called "the number one priority for the senior National Team in 2015."
Let's take a look at the two other times the USMNT has played at Toyota Stadium:
February 19, 2006 - USMNT 4, Guatemala 0
The first-ever visit of the national team to a brand new Toyota Stadium(then Pizza Hut Park) was played in absolutely frigid winter conditions as anyone who was at the USWNT game against New Zealand can relate to. It was even colder than that.
A USMNT squad beginning their 2006 World Cup preparation featured a mix of both young and old with Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan making his debut while stalwarts like Brian Ching, Frankie Hejduk and Ben Olsen also suited up for Bruce Arena's team.
A surprisingly robust crowd saw Ben Olsen open the scoring with a beautiful volley with Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson and Chris Klein rounding out the scoring.
(If you can name that full starting XI, you're a true US Soccer old schooler).
March 28, 2007 - USMNT 0, Guatemala 0
Just a year later, Guatemala returned to Toyota Stadium for another friendly against the USMNT, though this one was played on a Wednesday night with what can only be described as a weakened USMNT squad beginning to prepare for the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The weekend matchup saw fan favorite Kenny Cooper and others like Frank Simek and Justin Mapp make some of their only USMNT appearances in the goalless draw.
In front of an enormous crowd of 81,410 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, FC Dallas forward Blas Perez scored in the first half as Panama defeated Mexico 2-1 in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals. This all-important win sends Panama to their second Gold Cup Final where they'll face the United States who cruised to a 3-1 victory thanks to a pair of goals from Landon Donovan, the hottest player in US Soccer.
In the opening match, the United States had little trouble jumping out to a two-goal lead at halftime. Landon Donovan was again the dangerman with a brilliant assist on Eddie Johnson's well taken 11th minute goal before scoring a fantastic goal of his own in the 27th minute.
After Honduras' Nery Medina raised the blood pressure with a 52nd minute goal, Donovan wasted no time in scoring his fifth goal of the tournament just a minute later to put the Catrachos comeback bid to rest in another scintillating performance from Jurgen Klinsmann's men.
In the nightcap, it was Blas Perez on his homecoming to DFW getting things started with a 13th minute goal slammed past Mexico goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco. El Tri set the highly partisan crowd on fire when Luis Montes headed home Marco Fabian's brilliant cross in the 26th minute to send the game into halftime tied 1-1.
In the second half, Roman Torres headed home a corner from Gabriel Torres to put Panama up 2-1, a lead they wouldn't relenquish. Perez and Panama will face the United States in the final at 3PM on Sunday afternoon, their second-ever Gold Cup final and second against the United States, a game the Americans won on penalty kicks.
The week ahead is an exciting one for soccer fans across the metroplex, with the best of CONCACAF coming to town for the Gold Cup semifinals and FC Dallas Stadium hosting three events, including an international friendly. Here's a timeline of the packed week!
Tuesday, July 23 - FC Dallas Reserves vs. Antigua Barracuda FC: The FC Dallas reserve squad will host Antigua Barracuda FC of USL Pro in reserve league action on Tuesday night, their second home game of the season. The game will start at 7 p.m. and admission is free. If you can't make it out to the stadium, you can watch the game via the live stream on FCDallas.com.
Wednesday, July 24 - Gold Cup Semifinals: On Wednesday night, one of the biggest soccer events of the year hits Cowboys Stadium as the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals come to the metroplex. Jurgen Klinsmann's high-flying United States squad starts the evening off at 6 p.m. against Honduras, followed by Mexico vs. Panama, featuring FC Dallas' Blas Perez, at 9 p.m. in what is sure to be a sold-out and wild atmosphere. Follow FC Dallas for exclusive social media and website coverage of both games.
Friday, July 26 - Meet the Team: FC Dallas Season Ticket Holders will have an exclusive opportunity to meet the team on Friday night before the Stoke City friendly on Saturday. The schedule is tentatively as follows: The evening will begin with a press conference featuring Stoke City at 6 p.m. in the WinStar River Club. The event is open to the first 300 Season Ticket Holders that arrive. The press conference will be followed by the media introduction of FC Dallas' newest signing, Mauro Diaz, at 6:15 p.m. Season Ticket Holders will also have access to Stoke City FC's pregame practice starting at 6:30p.m. The evening will end with FC Dallas player autographs on the concourse from 7:15-8:45 p.m. Free CiCi's pizza and soda will be available for all Season Ticket Holders. If you're not currently a season ticket holder, you can gain access to the event by purchasing season tickets. Call 888-FCD-GOAL for more information.
Saturday, July 27 - FC Dallas vs. Stoke City FC: The week will conclude with an international showdown as the English Premier League comes to Frisco with FCD hosting Stoke City FC. The game will kickoff at 8 p.m. at FC Dallas Stadium, and there is still plenty of time to grab your tickets for the game.