How they got to be #1: 5-0 win over Venezuela, 5-0 win over France, 5-0 win over Cameroon
Head coach: Alex Selma
Assistant coaches: Adenilson Dos Santos, Vanderlei Jornal
One word to describe Brazil: Prepared
No coach or player has seen more Unity Cup matches this year than Coach Alex. He has every team in the round of 16 scouted, and his team will be well prepared for whatever matchup comes their way.
How far can they go? The brackets are not favorable to Brazil. In the first match, they get a tough Ukrainian team with revenge on their minds from a kick-off night loss a year ago. If they survive that, they get a match with either USA or Nigeria, neither of which will be an easy out. Brazil has the talent and the coaching to make it and win the championship, and if they do, it will be well earned based on the path they may have to take.
How they got to be #2: 4-0 win over Vietnam, 12-0 win over Kenya, 1-0 win over Israel
Head coach: Steve Basciani
Assistant coaches: Miladin Nikic, Boban Lackovic
One word to describe Serbia: Physical
When you match up against Serbia, you feel it… then you feel it again the next day. They will body players, push them around, and take fouls when necessary, all while playing a tactical game.
How far can they go? The bracket fell in their favor for their first match against the lowest-seed remaining, Belize. After that the road gets very difficult as they would face the winner of Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast (each team made it to the championship the Unity Cup’s first two years). There’s nothing to say they can’t use their brawn to push through, but they may have the most difficult road of the top 6.
How they got to be #3: 6-1 win over Peru, 7-0 win over Ethiopia, 5-0 win over England
Head coach: George Attah-Asante
Assistant coaches: Mac Dankwa, Mark Oqusu-Ansah
One work to describe Ghana: Disciplined
Ghana plays as the most fair and disciplined team of any in the tournament. Coach George takes pride in his players playing fair and clean. To that end, they won’t take many bad fouls and tend to be in good defensive position most of the time.
How far can they go? The first-round Ireland matchup will be an interesting one. Ireland will test Ghana’s discipline, as they play a rougher style than Ghana is accustomed to. Ireland is the #14 seed, so Ghana should be favored. Moving forward they would face the Honduras-Jamaica winner, two teams who they can match speed with. Looking very far down the road, they could make a semifinal run and see another African team in the semifinals, which would be very tough to pass.
#4 El Salvador
How they got to be #4: 3-1 win over Bosnia, 7-0 win over Algeria, 2-0 win over Ireland
Head coach: Christian Castro
Assistant coaches: Ruben Villatoro, Jonathan Salgado
One word to describe El Salvador: Quick
El Salvador is one of, if not the, quickest team in the tournament. They get outside on teams in a hurry and have very quick feet around the ball with nice control. Teams may take Albania’s approach and hack away at their speed to see if they lose their cool.
How far can they go? The brackets are not kind to El Salvador. Mexico is their first opponent. Before the play-in matches, this would appear to be a much easier matchup, but seeing how Mexico handled Puerto Rico, it could be a challenge. The real issue would come in the quarterfinals with a possible show down with #5 Liberia. Playing a top 5 team is tough, but playing a team with that pedigree is even tougher. If El Salvador makes it to La Salle and the semifinals, they will deserve it!
How they got to be #5: 6-0 win over Spain, 5-1 win over South Africa, 6-1 in over Guatemala
Head coach: Jason Waylee
Assistant coaches: Patrick O’Neal, Kwame Page
One word to describe Liberia: Experienced
Not many teams have the tournament experience of Liberia. Back-to-back trips to the championship, eight knock-out wins in two years, and eyes on another trip back to the cup final.
How far can they go? They can absolutely win it all again, but it won’t be easy. They have the classic little brother match-up to get through with Guinea, who they often train with. Then they’ll face either Mexico (who they have a history with) or an El Salvador team that will come in hungry as an underdog. The semifinals will be no piece of cake either, and if they make it all the way, they could be staring at a championship rematch vs. either Sierra Leone (2017) or Ivory Coast (2016).
How they got to be #6: 3-2 win over Mexico, 13-0 win over Myanmar, 10-0 win over Gambia
Head coach: Abner Melgar
Assistant coaches: Samuel Caballero, Fernando Alvarado
One word to describe Honduras: Underrated
Honduras has been quietly moving along since the first Unity Cup. Coach Abner has improved his team every season and is looking to make the next jump into the semifinals or championship. Problem is, no one is talking about them, and that’s just how he likes it!
How far can they go? Honduras won’t have an easy road to the semifinals, but they do benefit from missing Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast in their corner of the bracket. Jamaica won’t be an easy out, but it is a winnable game for Honduras, as is the possible quarterfinal match with Ireland or Ghana. Their major challenge may not come until they see one of the top African teams in the semifinals, and that’s where their season may end.