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Gold Cup 2011: US Soccer Takes On Canada In Opener

The US Men's National team kicks off its 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign this evening as they take on our neighbors the north, Canada. Both nations are members of Group C along with Panama and Guadeloupe. The game will take place very near the Canadian border at Detroit's Ford Field, home of the NFL's Lions. The game will be live on Fox Soccer Channel at 8pm eastern.

The US will look to rebound from their 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain in a friendly over the weekend. Of course, they did not have their compliment of players for that game and they certainly aren't playing Spain tonight. Regular first teamers such as Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey will all return as starters this evening. Demspey downplayed the meaning of the Spain friendly

"That was a game more for the fans," Dempsey said. "We play whoever they put in front of us for friendlies, but as far as what matters to us, the main focus for the whole year has been the Gold Cup."

The Gold Cup is an important competition for the USMNT with the World Cup still three years off. For one, it's important to start developing the core of players that will eventually be in that World Cup squad, but also the winner of the Gold Cup will be CONCACAF's representative in the Confederations Cup, which is held at the site of the World Cup (Brazil), one year before the event itself. The US team benefited tremendously in last year's World Cup having been familiar with the stadiums and already tasting success. They were the runners up the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Plus, there's bragging rights on the line. This is the United States home federation's "championship" and this team wants to be seen as the top dogs on the continent This competition has long been basically one long prelude to a US vs Mexico final, but as Landon Donovan explains, the level of play is improving.

"I think this tournament is getting more and more difficult," Donovan said. "You could say there's three or four other teams that have a legitimate chance."

Since the competition was re-organized as the Gold Cup in 1991, only once has a team other than the US or Mexico won the Cup and that was Canada in 2000. In all, Mexico has 8 wins to the United States' four. Mexico is the heavy favorite this year with US seen as their most likely opponent in the final. That said, Honduras has a solid team and was in the World Cup and this Canada team that the US faces tonight is certainly improved.