Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gold Cup musings...US needs to get to Copa America

So the Gold Cup final was this past weekend, I had wanted to lay down some key strokes and give some thoughts on the finals earlier, but work sometimes gets in the way of my musing. Better late than never! For those of you that did not watch or do not know what the Gold Cup is, a quick recap.

This is the CONCACAF football championships, it is held every 2 years (which minimizes the title in my opinion) and the winner gets to go to the Confederation Cup the following year (assuming the Gold Cup version is held prior to the World Cup). Recently the finals have been another opportunity to see a US v Mexico match and to once again watch the game played on US soil in front of a predominately Mexican crowd! That was the case again this finals edition in Pasadena.

The game itself was actually exciting, the US going up early 2-0 only to concede 4 straight goals. Granted Dempsey smashed a shot off the cross bar when the US was trailing 3-2, had that goal gone in things might have turned out very differently. Both teams also sent most of their A side players - Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Howard et al for the US, Chicharito, Dos Santos, Marquez et al for El Tri. Mexico did expose that the US does a poor job with in game management, remember last Confederation Cup final when the US had a 2-0 lead on the Brazilians? The US continued to play a more wide open game after being up 2-0 and ended up paying for it, as Mexico's speed and offensive talent exploited the space. Eventually finding their way to a 4-2 victory...including a wonder goal from former Barcelona player Dos Santos:

But this post is not about the game itself, but about the value of the Gold Cup. What struck me was the reaction from many of the US players and pundits post game, it was not about the fact they lost a title or lost to hated rival Mexico...but that they cannot go to Brazil next summer for the Confederation Cup. Hmmmm interesting. I do not think I hear the losing team in the Euros say "shucks, we lost the title and now we cannot go to the Confederations Cup." To me this is indicative of what could be holding back the development of US Soccer - regular competitive games.

The reality for the US is that they have graduated, 20 years ago, playing in CONCACAF was good for the US. They had a chance to get to the World Cup, played smaller nations that were more passionate for football but clearly were trailing in regards to resources. When the US qualified for the 1990 edition of the World Cup in Italy, it was the first time in 40 years, they attended the global sporting event...promptly getting trounced losing all 3 games. However since then, the US has qualified for every edition since, and reaching two knock out stages and the 1/4 finals in 2002 (some would argue they outplayed eventual runner-ups Germany in that game and were it not for a missed hand ball might have played a semi final). That is a good run. But if the United States is serious about being a legitimate threat to go deeper and gasp...maybe even win the trophy...they cannot rely on Gold Cup and Confederation Cup as their "competitive" matches. I discount World Cup qualifiers, why? With 3 direct spots to the World Cup and a fourth that goes to play off, are the US and Mexico ever really in jeopardy of not qualifying? As I have posted in the past, the US needs to get out of their comfort zone if they expect to grow, footballing wise.

Unlike the US, Mexico will head to the Copa America in Argentina, and face some serious competition. El Tri will face, Chile, Peru and Uruguay in their group....much more serious than Panama and Jamaica. European nations are never taking a break, with the World Cup and European Cups every other year there is a constant stream of high charged qualifying matches to reach these tournaments. The US must, if it will not rework its World Cup qualification and why would they, find a way to participate in the Copa America on a regular basis. Since 1993 they have only participate in 3 editions...why has Japan participated??? The US must get into this tournament. The US must add another real tournament to their dance card if they want to grow.

Otherwise the US will be stuck lamenting another lose in the Gold Cup finals and not being able to go to the Confederation Cup...but looking forward to World Cup qualifiers versus Turks & Caicos, Bermuda and El Salvador.

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