Gone are the days when Miami figured prominently in the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Before its closing and eventual demolition five years ago, the Orange Bowl was a common venue for Gold Cup quarterfinal or semifinal matches in addition to first-round group games. Local soccer fans still remember the thrilling 2003 Gold Cup semifinal between the United States and Brazil at the Orange Bowl, when Brazil rallied with a tying goal in the 89th minute and won the match in overtime.
But in the past two cycles, CONCACAF no longer limits its Gold Cup venues to a handful of sites. Now the tournament has expanded to as many as 12 different locations for first-round matches.
As a result, Miami is now bunched among the other first-round sites, while cities like Atlanta and Baltimore host quarterfinal games. South Florida’s lone 2013 Gold Cup date will be July 12 as Sun Life Stadium becomes the new local site after a one-time experiment with FIU Stadium two years ago.
At least the matches at Sun Life will appeal to two of South Florida’s most ardent soccer communities — Haiti and Honduras.
In the opening game, Haiti will play Trinidad and Tobago, followed by a match between Honduras and El Salvador.
Honduras’ Gold Cup appearance will occur during a break from CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador failed to advance to the hexagonal phase.
“We look forward to a successful tournament and an exciting 2013 Gold Cup final on July 28, right here at Soldier Field,” CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb said from Chicago, where the draw was announced Wednesday.
• One of the immediate interests linked to Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio after he was named new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday was his life-long devotion to the Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro.
Born in Argentina, Pope Francis grew up a huge San Lorenzo fan. In fact, the club’s website revealed the Pope’s fan membership identification card.
The team also congratulated Pope Francis in a letter sent to the new pontiff. “Be aware that for us it is not another Pope, nor the first Argentine or Latin American Pope or the first Jesuit Pope, it is the Pope from San Lorenzo,” read the letter.
Founded in 1906, San Lorenzo currently is tied for seventh through five matches of the Argentine league’s Clausura season.
• The Fort Lauderdale Strikers will have continuity with their captaincy. The club announced that defender and team captain Toni Stahl will return for his third season in 2013.
Stahl’s signing last week coincided with the addition of defender Shavar Thomas, a former captain of the Jamaican national team. Thomas, 32, also has MLS experience as he helped Kansas City to the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“My goal is always to win games and win championships, so hopefully we can be a strong unit and that will translate into us earning a lot of points,” Thomas said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to playing with the team.
“I’m very familiar with Lockhart Stadium, having played there with Jamaica against teams like Peru and Colombia.”
Strikers coach Daryl Shore anticipates that Stahl’s return and Thomas’ arrival will solidify the team’s defense in 2013.
“We’re excited to bring Toni back as part of our core group,” Shore said. “When you add him in with guys like Shavar, Ivan Guerrero and Scott Gordon, we’d like to think we’re going to have a pretty good group in the back this year.”
The Strikers will have another three weeks of preseason before their NASL spring season opener against FC Edmonton April 6 at Lockhart Stadium.
• Barcelona will be without defender and team captain Carles Puyol for its Champions League quarterfinal leg against Paris Saint-Germain next month. Puyol underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Friday.
Puyol, 34, has felt discomfort in his right knee since last fall. He is expected to be sidelined six weeks.
Barcelona and PSG will play their home-and-home Champions League quarterfinal set on April 2 and 10.