Fresh from the afterglow of the United States Women’s National Team bringing home its third FIFA World Cup Championship, attention and excitement were high as the Men’s National Team entered the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the biennial championship of this region of the world. It was a complete failure, with the team finishing fourth losing to Jamaica, and penalties to Panama. The direction and future of the men’s program is in a state of confusion.
It was the 13th Gold Cup, a tournament growing in importance and stature (this year in particular) that Coach Jürgen Klinsmann emphasized. The United States and Mexico have won all but one of these tournaments, with the U.S. winning the last one in 2013 in Chicago over Panama, carried by the greatest male player our country has ever produced in Landon Donovan. Donovan was subsequently left off the 2014 World Cup roster and later retired.
Clint Dempsey has since picked up the mantle, scoring six goals in this Gold Cup. But he is not the leader Donovan was. Younger stars were promised, most notably Julian Green who scored in the World Cup, but we have barely seen him since. The direction is a muddle. Once the veterans are gone, who will replace them? Goalkeeper Tim Howard, so spectacular in the World Cup, took a sabbatical from the National Team and has said he is ready to return. But will he be welcome? Klinsmann did not exactly welcome Donovan back with open arms.
In this Gold Cup, the U.S. started by defeating Honduras 2-1. Hanging on the last 20 minutes under intense pressure, Dempsey scoring both goals for the USA. After that was a lackluster 1-0 win over Haiti in which they were outshot an astonishing 21-6. Our team was one reluctant to shoot so often, choosing to overpass and not accurately a lot of the time. Group play concluded with a foretelling 1-1 draw against Panama, seven of the possible nine points in the group.
In the ‘quarterfinals,’ the U.S. romped past a Cuban team extremely fortunate to be there, with the score at 6-0. Cuba was outscored 8-1 in group play, but a surprising 1-0 win over Guatemala got them through. The ‘semifinal’ in Atlanta against Jamaica was a disaster. Poor positioning led to a goal in the 31st minute off a long throw. Five minutes later they scored again on a free kick just outside the box—on a shot not one of the four defenders in the wall bothered to jump to try and block.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan had no chance, and had set the kick up by handling the ball outside the box trying to start a counterattack. A Michael Bradley goal early in the second half drew the U.S. closer, but numerous opportunities thereafter failed to bear fruit in the 2-1 loss. The third-place match, a second matchup with Panama, saw the Americans fall behind, get the equalizer from Dempsey, then end up in a shootout where they failed to score on their last three kicks—losing 3-2 in that shootout to finish fourth. Mexico went on to win their seventh ‘Copa Oro’ defeating Jamaica 3-1 setting up a critical match on October 9 at the Rose Bowl, with U.S.A. vs. Mexico—the winner earning a berth in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017. This tournament is an important preamble to the World Cup, also in Russia, in 2018. It is a match we must win for so many reasons.