Why it's important for the USMNT to win the Gold Cup


The United States Women’s National team accomplished their goal, winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup.  The 5-2 demolition of Japan in the final was the most watched soccer match in US Soccer history with a reported 25.4 million tuning in.  That surpassed the previous marker which was the men’s 2014 World Cup second group stage game against Portugal (18.2 million). 

So now with the Women’s World Cup over, it’s time to put away the flags, right?  Nope, not at all, keep them out and waving to welcome the US men’s team as America and Canada host the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.  First off, the tournament will be entertaining but secondly, in the month of July, the only competition for your attention is midseason baseball…get on board folks.

But before that, as a growing soccer country, I’m sure you are wondering what this competition is, why it matters and why you should watch…so here goes.  

What is the Gold Cup?

It is our regional championship that includes the best 12 teams from North America, Central American and the Caribbean (CONCACAF).  This international competition takes place every 2 years.  The US won the 2013 cup, defeating Panama, 1-0, in the final. 

The 12 teams are divided into three groups of four teams.  The top two in each group qualify for the knockout round along with the two highest-scoring third-place finishers.  The US are in the most difficult group with Honduras, Haiti and Panama (more on this later). 

Why it matters?

Winning any competition or title at any level is why you play the sports right, Herm?  And yes, grabbing a sixth Gold Cup title, which would tie the US for most ever with Mexico, is important.  But what really matters, is winning this Gold Cup will qualify them for the 2017 Confederations Cup.  This tournament is held in Russia and is a prelude to the 2018 World Cup.  The competition has winners from the other 5 FIFA regions, the last World Cup champion and the host nation.  This provides the US a chance to play against the world’s best teams, in some of the same venues they could see in 2018 and no doubt just makes them better prepared for the World Cup.

The last time the US played in this event was South Africa in 2009.  The experience and results were historic.  In the semifinals, they beat Spain, who was the No.1 team in the world and riding a 35-game unbeaten streak. In the final, they took a 2-0 lead over Brazil but lost, 3-2, slightly missing out on the country’s first major title outside of CONCACAF. 

Lastly, qualification for the 2017 Confederations Cup means the US will play in major international tournaments against top-notch competition every summer in preparation for the 2018 World Cup.  Usually the US only has the Gold Cup and CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers to prepare in competitive environments.  But in 2016, the centennial Copa America (South American Championship) is coming to the US along with all the first teams of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, etc.  This would  provide an unprecedented opportunity for the US to be tested against the best every summer before it really counts in Mother Russia. 

Who they play?

Another Group of Death for the US, but not nearly as bad as Ghana, Portugal and Germany, which they successfully navigated down in Brazil last summer.  They open group play Tuesday  (9:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1) against Honduras in Dallas.  Honduras qualified for the World Cup last year.  Now they are under new leadership as Jorge Luis Pinto takes the reigns.  Last summer he led the Cinderella squad, Costa Rica, to the quarterfinals in Brazil.  Honduras is a tough defensive squad, that will probably deploy five defenders in the back and try to make things tough for the US.

Next up, the Yanks return to Foxboro to take on Haiti (July 10, 8:30 p.m. kickoff). Haiti undoubtedly the minnow of the group currently ranked 76th in the FIFA World Rankings (US is 27th).  So if you’re looking for something to do Friday night, take the family to Gillette or tune in to watch what should be a US win.

Last up will be a tough Panama squad (July 13th, 9:30 p.m. kickoff). Panama should have qualified for Brazil but in their final qualifier against the US, midfielder Graham Zusi scored in extra time for a 2-2 final.  It was a meaningless game for the US as they had already qualified but that tie allowed rival Mexico to punch their ticket to Brazil, earned Zusi the name San Zusi in South of the Border and sent Panama home in tears. 

Who are the favorites?

The US (five titles) and Mexico (six titles) have dominated this competition and many betting lines have them as equal favorites.  But a lot of people think Costa Rica is the actual favorite.  First off, they are coming in as the highest ranked squad per FIFA (14th) while Mexico is 23rd and the US is 27th.  The merit of the rankings can be debated but what can’t be is Costa Rica was terrific last year in Brazil.  Playing in what I and many thought was the real group of death with Uruguay, England and Italy.  They managed to get out of that group, win in the round of 16 and then lost to the Dutch (eventual 3rd place finisher) on penalties in the quarterfinals. 

Coupled with their confidence, the Ticos also have the easiest group.  They play Jamaica, Canada and El Salvador.  They should breeze to the top of that group meaning the first time they are truly challenged will be the knockout round. 

As for the Yanks biggest rival Mexico, they suffered a big loss last week.   It was just a 0-0 draw against Honduras but their striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez broke his collarbone and will miss the competition.  Additionally, they sent what was actually a back-up squad to compete in this year’s Copa America.  They went winless and were sent back to North America after the group stage.  Since beating Guatemala in May, Mexico is 0-2-5.  Needless to say, not strong momentum to ride into the tournament but they will definitely be in contention late in this tournament.

Who to watch in red, white and blue?

Michael Bradley

Last summer everyone was told to watch Bradley, they did and he disappointed.  His work rate was terrific but he was unable to keep the ball at key times, link up with the US attack and be the dominant midfielder they needed.  This summer, he looks for redemption.  In last month’s wins over the Netherlands and Germany (on the road) he was arguably the best player on the pitch, orchestrating from the midfield the way the US want and need.  Additionally he was handed the US captaincy by Jurgen Klinsmann and will definitely hold onto that role up until the 2018 World Cup. 

Gyasi Zardes

The LA Galaxy midfielder is one of the brightest stars in MLS.  At 23, he burst onto the domestic scene last year scoring 17 goals and helping them to eventually hoist the MLS Cup (over the New England Revolution).  Zardes wasn’t in the national team picture this time last year, but soon as they started this “year of transition” as Klinsmann called it, Zardes was in the plans.  He’s improved throughout his time with the national team, looking more comfortable and becoming very impactful.  He’s played in all eight games this calendar year highlighted by his first international goal against the Dutch displaying his technical ability and proficiency in front of the net. I believe Zardes will play a big role in this tournament but will be a fixture in their squad come Russia 2018.

Brad Guzan

Last summer, every American fell in love with US Goalkeeper Tim Howard after his ridiculous, record-setting 16 save performance against Belgium in the round of 16.  But after the World Cup, Timmy went on sabbatical from international play.  So in steps 30-year-old Brad Guzan.  He’s definitely a capable keeper, manning the nets for English Premier League Club Aston Villa as the starter the last three seasons (seven seasons total at Villa).  However, this year wasn’t smooth for him and he was relegated to back up duty at the club late in the season.   He had a couple good showings for the US recently, especially the game against the Dutch.  But he hasn’t played in a competitive international game for the US since 2009 (3-0 Confederations Cup win over Egypt).  His performance is big for success in this tournament but with Tim Howard expressing desire to return and Nick Rimando nipping at Guzan’s heels this tournament will go a long way in determining who is the US No. 1 keeper going forward. 

So that’s just three guys to watch but the team has other names you know well like Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore as well as exciting young players who have started to emerge in Deandre Yedlin and John Anthony Brooks. 

The next three weeks will be critical for the future of US soccer.  The women did their part, the men now have to do theirs and you have to do yours…pick up that flag, get to the bar/watch party/friends house and support the Red, White and Blue. 

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