A pair of draws on Wednesday night in Carson, California saw Group B get off to a cautious start with no team darting to the front of the pack, nor falling behind; at least one of the matches featured a few goals.
The early game between Costa Rica and Jamaica would end in a 2-2 draw, disappointing for the Costa Ricans, of whom much was expected following their stunning performance at last summer's World Cup in Brazil. They topped a group that continued three past winners (Uruguay, Italy, and England), before winning the Round of 16 meeting against Greece, eventually falling to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
Jamaica meanwhile, were making their return to the regional competition for the first time since 2011, having missed out on the last edition.
It was the Reggae Boyz who struck first, taking the lead in the 12th minute through Garath McCleary when a long throw from Kemar Lawrence on the left was allowed to fall in the Costa Rican box. Junior Diaz misread both the flight and the bounce of the delivery, allowing it to fall and rebound over his head to McCleary on the right. His right-footer beat keeper, Esteban Alvarado, taking a slight deflection off the boot of the stretching Diaz.
Los Ticos would respond in the 32nd minute through Roy Miller from a free-kick after a weak foul call provided the opportunity for a set-piece. Bryan Ruiz played the kick short, cutting it across the top of the box to David Ramirez, who popped a ball up to the left-post area. Miller got on the end, guiding his header from the edge of the six back across towards the right side of goal.
Costa Rica took the lead four minutes later when a deep ball from Celso Borges sailed over the head of Westley Morgan. Ramirez got a right-footed touch to the delivery, looping it over the keeper. Morgan attempted to clear off the line, but got it horribly wrong, directing the ball into the roof of the net.
Come the start of the second half, Jamaica would equalize in the 47th minute following a mazey run from Jobi McAnuff past a few defenders before stabbing a left-footer past Alvarado. McAnuff collected the ball in midfield, streaked past Jose Cubero, then jinked past Miller, digging the ball out of his feet to beat the keeper at the last possible moment.
Both sides would see chances to win go wanting. Johan Venegas had a blistering crack pushed wide by Jamaican keeper, Dwayne Miller, while Darren Mattocks saw his shot denied after cutting in from the left. Alvaro Saborio was denied by a combination of the keeper and an offside flag, while Jamaica would waste a four-on-three break before Simon Dawkins' crack off a pull-back from McCleary was saved by the Costa Rican keeper.
Group B's opener would end level, setting the stage for the evening's second match.
With an unexpected draw providing an opening for either El Salvador or Canada to move to the top of the group, the late match got underway.
The early action comprised mostly of Canada playing a physical game and El Salvador dropping like flies; they would be forced into an early substitution, replacing Nelson Bonilla with Irving Herrera, losing their leading scoring through qualification in the process.
The sights included a snazzy look from the El Salvadorean bench, their matching sweater vests taking a page out of the German National Team's playbook, while Marcel de Jong literally tackled the boot off of an opponent.
The first two chances would fall the way of La Selecta, Herrera twice played in down the left, only for Kenny 'Kyriakos' Stamatopoulos to come up with big saves.
Then came the moment that would define Canada's game, when Nik Ledgerwood cut out a ball up the left that sailed into the path of Cyle Larin with a clear route to goal.
Larin did everything right, collecting the ball, striding away from the recovering defenders, and rounding the keeper to the outside, but with the net agape, he failed to take his time, rushing an effort that skyrocketed high and wide – it was devastating.
It can be quibbled whether the ball bounced, or he needed to take an extra second to compose himself, or whether the touch round the keeper was a tad too heavy, preventing him from wrapping his foot around the ball, or if all that was needed was a simple tap, but either way, it did not go in.
And that miss nearly proved costly when an almighty goalmouth scramble at the other end closed the half.
Richard Menjivar was allowed to walk in-field through a pair of Canadians on the right, ghosting past the out-stretched boot of Adam Straith to put the ball into a dangerous area in the box.
Herrera got on the end of the loose ball, only for David Edgar's sliding block to intervene. Partially cleared, El Salvador would put the ball back in, requiring several punches from Stamatopoulos, ultimately culminating in a weak skewed one that fell to Herrera on the right-side of the box; Stamatopoulos would come up with another huge save, staying big to block the attempt, to finally end the madness.
Having survived that scare, Canada would emerge for the second half a much more composed side, finding several chances to take the lead. Samuel Piette set up de Jong with a chance from tight angle on the left, his shot was parried over by keeper Derby Carrilo. Straith then struck a sumptuous volley over the bar after a juggled set-up from Edgar – what beauty that would have been.
The Salvadoreans would have their chances as well, possibly deserving of a penalty kick when Edgar stepped into Herrera in the box. At first it appeared he had taken the ball, but replays showed there was a lot of ankle involved – Les Rouges could consider themselves lucky.
In fact, in a rather bizarre turn of events, the CONCACAF referee actually swallowed his whistle, allowing shoulder-to-shoulder contact and letting the teams play it out. Yes, some obvious fouls were not called, but in terms of taste, less stoppages are always better than more; at least from an entertainment point of view.
Finally ringing in the much-called-for changes, Canada looked more dangerous in the final ten minutes. Tosaint Ricketts nearly found the breakthrough with an 80th minute bicycle kick before Russell Teibert strafed a left-footer inches over the bar from a healthy range.
The match would end scoreless, leaving each side with a single point.
Group B's first matchday would close with all four teams tied on one point. Costa Rica and Jamaica have a slight lead by dint of having scored goals – that being the third tie-breaker after points and goal-difference.
They return to the pitch on Saturday in Houston, Texas with Jamaica and Canada meeting in the first match and Costa Rica facing El Salvador in the second.
Thursday sees the final group, Group C, make their introductions to the Gold Cup in Chicago, Illinois. Trinidad and Tobago will play Guatemala at 7 pm (ET) in the opener of the double-header, while powerhouse Mexico takes on minnows Cuba in the closer at 9:30 pm (ET).