With the Women’s World Cup, Copa America and UEFA Under-21 tournaments out of the way, the focus should now be on the CONCACAF Gold Cup. It comes at a time when the game in the region is under something of a cloud after the FIFA scandal. In fact, Chuck Blazer, the former general secretary of CONCACAF, has just been given a lifetime ban from football.
Given its relative weakness, CONCACAF’s major tournament never really gets much attention. There are three main reasons why: firstly, it takes place every two years; secondly, there are so few potential winners and lastly, it compares poorly to the other regional competitions – Copa America, African Cup of Nations and the European Championship.
Since 1991, there have been 12 tournaments, 2015 is the 13th. They are always hosted, in full or in part, in the United States. This means the Gold Cup doesn’t easily get on the radar screen in Europe or Asia. The US and Mexico have dominated, winning all but one of the rebranded Gold Cup. Canada pulled off a shock win in 2000. The rest are really also-rans, with the exception of Costa Rica, who did so well in the 2014 World Cup.
The competition can be something of an endurance test. It’s a case of familiarity breeds contempt, because the teams come up against each other so frequently. The United States, who have Panama, Haiti and Honduras in their group this year, have met Panama in the last three Gold Cups and also the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. To reach the final means playing six games in 20 days. That’s a big ask in the heat of summer, especially as a lot of players are out of season – the US has players from England, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 as well as Major League Soccer and Mexico.
The US team, still managed by Jurgen Klinsmann, will find it hard to get out of the shadows of the USA Women’s team, which won the World Cup last weekend in fine style, beating Japan 5-2. Not a single Gold Cup TV audience will get close to the viewing figures set by this game – some 25 million.
That said, it is likely that the USA (FIFA #34) or Mexico (FIFA #40) will win this year’s competition. The latter didn’t do too well in the Copa America, failing to win a single game and they were dealt a blow when Chicharito Hernandez injured his shoulder. The US, meanwhile, went into the Gold Cup with some encouraging results, winning in the Netherlands and Germany in June. They also beat Mexico in April.
A lot of people believe Costa Rica (FIFA #41) are a rising power in CONCACAF, largely due to their last eight placing in the World Cup. But their record in 2015 is not good.
USA started their defence of the title they won in 2013 with a 2-1 success against Honduras. They rely a lot on veteran former Fulham and Tottenham striker Clint Dempsey, who scored both goals. Skipper Michael Bradley is arguably their most influential player in midfield. The USA could have had an easier group, but they should successfully negotiate encounters with Haiti and Panama in the other group games.
The final is on July 26 in Philadelphia. The smart dollars are on USMNT coming out on top.