Marcelo Balboa is a well known Colorado Rapids and U.S. Men's National Team legend. He's been honored by the National Soccer Hall of Fame as well as the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. This week, the former captain turned broadcaster was on a media tour (above with Univision's Luis Canela) promoting Sunday's CONCACAF Gold Cup matches at Sports Authority Field.
Balboa interview with The Denver Post
In the first game, Panama will face Canada followed by Mexico taking on Martinique. Tickets are available at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High box office or Ticketmaster.
Balboa was on the U.S. team that won the first Gold Cup back in 1991 by defeating Honduras 4-3 (more in the video with the Denver Post). He played in three of the early editions of the premier regional tournament. Here's our Q&A with Balboa ahead of Sunday's matches:
From your first Gold Cup to now, what's the biggest difference in the Gold Cup?
Marcelo Balboa: "Now, with the implication of being able to get into a big tournament like the Confederations Cup, it's huge. What CONCACAF has done now, I think, is smart. This year's winner, the year before the World, and the winner of the next Gold Cup will have a playoff (for the Confederations Cup berth), which I think is fantastic. It puts meaning into both years, and it's something we didn't have. If you win this one, you have a shot at the Confederations Cup, so I like that they've made the Gold Cup important in this off year."
And what about in the tournament itself?
Balboa: "Now, it's a mini-World Cup for CONCACAF. They are playing in 13 different cities all over - I like that they are spreading this tournament throughout the United States. Before it was always isolated to one or two spots."
What type of teams should fans expect in the tournament?
Balboa: "First, there's no such thing as a friendly. And the importance right now, especially this tournament, is that it's played the year before the World Cup. So especially for the U.S. and Mexico, they are bringing a lot of young players and kids that the coach is looking at. You've got that next generation of guys who are in their 30s who won't be around for the next qualyfing cycles, so it's important for many of the players. And what a great opportunity - a big tournament like this - for the coach to get a look at players who may get a shot at the World Cup roster."
What can fans in Denver expect from Mexico, Panama, Canada, and Martinique?
Balboa: "Panama is bringing a full team. Panama wants to win this, they've made it very clear from the beginning. Mexico is bringing a young team, but I think that's the exciting part - you want to see these guys, like Marco Fabian and the next generation of Mexican players.
But I think the most important part is the results. Mexico lost their opener. Their next two games are huge, huge for Mexico, playing against Canada and Martinique, here. They have to win both. And Pamana, once the Dely Valdez brothers took over - Jorge's the assistant, who used to play here for the Rapids - they've changed. Their mentality has changed, the way they look at soccer has changed, the way they play has changed. They've become one of the better teams in CONCACAF, one that people are a little bit afraid to play.
There's a lot to look for. Canada is an up-and-coming team with a new coach. And I'll be honest with you, Martinique surprised me against Canada. They had some great opportunities, how quick they are, the way they move. (They are) a little disorganized in the back, but at the end of the day, they attack in numbers and they're very quick."
What do you expect out of Sunday's games?
Balboa: "I expect Mexico to feel a lot of pressure. Mexico is one of the favorites coming, and they're not used to losing. I think Mexico will win their game in midweek (vs Canada), and Panama or Martinique will win. So hopefully you'll have a team on Sunday that's desperate, in Mexico, to win. That means they're going to come out to win. They are going to attack. They can't afford to sit back and get a tie.
So this will be a team that comes in desperate, with a lot of pressure - especially on the coach, right now - so I expect a wide open game. If Martinique happens to win (vs. Panama on Wednesday), they may pack it in, or they may play with 'I have nothing to lose' mentality."
Why should the typical sports or soccer fans go to the matches on Sunday?
Balboa: "We don't get international games - we don't get the Gold Cup games - often. This year for us to get a World Cup Qualifier was a surprise - and everyone was so excited. For us to get a Gold Cup game - an important one, the third game which can mean getting to the next round - is everything.
You're not going to get a chance to see Mexico playing a tournament game here in Denver too often. They can always come for a friendly, or exhibition game - we've seen those. But here in Denver, to get a meaningful game, tournament games where all four teams are going to be going after it to get to the next round, let's be honest, that's special. We don't get that too often. So if you're a soccer fan, this is something that would attract you."
How will you watch the game?
Balboa: "The beauty of Sunday for me is, I'm not doing radio, or TV, so I can honestly finally go see a game and enjoy a game. Just to watch who's playing well, who's not. I can sit back as a fan and see four teams go out there after it.
The fun part for us as athletes is to see what kind of formation they're playing, what kind of strategy the coach has - are they going to sit back, are they going to open them up, are they going to try to exploit the flanks, are they going to go right down the middle? The mind still spins like an athlete, so you're still trying to look where this team can break them down. That's the beauty of our sport, everybody has an opinion."
What are your prediction for this group and what we'll see Sunday?
Balboa: "I always have a hard time going against Mexico. But I have to be honest, this is the first time I'm saying to myself, I couldn't tell you with the Mexican team who's going to show up to play. I think Panama is going through. Martinique surprised me, but I think they are going to run into two meaningful teams (Panama and Mexico). So I'm going to say that Mexico and Panama will go through."