The Gold Cup is a CONCACAF tournament played every two years. It is an exciting time for the region, as teams from smaller nations in the Caribbean and Central America have the chance to face off against the Soccer giant of the region, Mexico, and the slowly rising star that is the US national team. It is an exciting time for American soccer fans, as we are able to watch our prospective World Cup team develop in front of our eyes. Fresh blood, controversial call-ups, and hype for new national team players, and of course criticism as soon as these new players make one mistake. This is all part of the excitement of the Gold Cup. Half the time the Gold Cup is played for an extra prize. National pride is always at stake, but when the Gold Cup played directly following a World Cup year, the ante is upped. The winner of the tournament wins entry to the Confederations Cup, a tournament played the year prior to the World Cup in the coming World Cup Country’s venues against winners of other FIFA regional competitions. In 2007, the United States’ victory over Mexico earned the team a spot in the Confederations Cup in South Africa, giving the team a crucial trial against some of FIFA’s top teams, and some crucial experience on the field where they would soon compete for Soccer’s ultimate prize. USA stunned international audiences in 2009 by beating Spain to earn it’s spot in the final, where they fell to Brazil. We defeated the World Cup champions the year before the World Cup, and it was all made possible by the Gold Cup.
This Gold Cup, as you may already realize, falls on one of those important years, and matters that much more to the nations involved. But for some odd reason, I’m yet to reach the appropriate level of excitement. Even now that the USA v. Mexico final has moved swiftly from prediction to reality, I don’t find myself feeling even half the butterflies that I felt for the team in some international friendlys in the past. And I am not alone in my sentiments. Although there has been plenty of conversation about the National Team through their uneasy journey to the finals, it has been tainted by an overwhelming amount of negativity from domestic fans. Instead of rallying support for the team, every decision has been questioned and mocked as if US Soccer were conspiring against the success of our nation. But that isn’t it either. Something about this team has failed to inspire fervor in the hearts of even its most attentive fans. Even after the lackluster victories and the embarrassing defeats, this team still represents the greatest selection of individual talent an American soccer side has ever seen. And even though they have been underperforming from the start, the spark of interest was never really there to begin with. Why?
Well, in a roundabout way we are suffering from a problem we have never had to worry about before. There are too many talented young American players. The MLS is doing its job, and doing it damn well. Our domestic league is churning out talent at an ever increasing pace, and the US has never seen so many viable options for call-ups. And while this is an overwhelmingly positive thing for the future of the National team, it makes it all to easy for us fans to criticize. Now instead of focusing on some subtle progression made by our young guns on the team, we now have the option of looking elsewhere. So if our one of our offensive talismans are slumping (for example, Dempsey in Panama round 1), instead of getting behind him and reminding others of past performances and important history with the team, we can look elsewhere, and say “Brek Shea is murdering it right now for FC Dallas! Where the hell is his call up?!?!” It was an option that was simply much less prevalent in the past. If Tim Ream, a man who has been a incredible stalwart and rock for us in the back, slumps for a few games, our first impression is no longer to question what could have caused this change or simply hope for him to regain his form. Our gut reaction as a nation is now to see who is doing the job better elsewhere and search for answers for why Bradley wasn’t able to predict the future. I’m as guilty as any other of taking the easy way out, and it has lead me to a bit of lack of compassion for the current US team. Our true problem is right now as fans and as a team, is that we are a Soccer nation going through puberty. Late bloomers, perhaps. Inconsistent ones? Certainly. But even if one leg grows a bit faster than the other, I think some day soon we’ll be standing tall.