CONCACAF Gold Cup: Squad Exemption for the USA Worth Debating
CONCACAF ’s oddities have struck once again. The Confederation that has done some odd things through the years (most notably the re-branding of the entity as the Football Confederation about ten years ago) has once again done something that seems from the perspective of someone who watches a lot of football, quite odd.
The decision to allow a special exemption for the US add seven players just two days before the tournament begins is bizarre. This allows the USA to carry a squad of 30 players while the other 11 qualified nations carry a 23 man squad. Additionally, the US is permitted to shuttle players back and forth between their club sides and the national team under this newly adopted rule which preceded the tournaments kickoff by under 72 hours.
I love this event that gives smaller nations, who are never going to qualify for the World Cup an attempt to qualify for this tournament. Haiti’s one World Cup appearance in 1974 is likely to be their last, but the Caribbean nation has now qualified for consecutive Gold Cups for the first time ever. Grenada has qualified for the first ever Gold Cup this year and it is great to see the island nation with several familiar names in a meaningful tournament.
It is also great to see Nicaragua long the doormats of Central America qualify for this tournament over Guatemala who is missing only their second Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup gets a bad wrap from football fans in the United States. No it is not the European Championships or the Copa America but it is our continental championship. Smaller nations as noted above put a great deal of emphasis on qualifying and when countries like Haiti or Nicaragua qualify it’s a big deal for those nations and their football federations.
I think that CONCACAF having spent lots of money promoting this event is risking losing the bi-annual payday. Mexico is sending a “B” squad much as they did in 2005 and the United States has called a squad reflective of the difficulty the USSF faces fielding competitive teams in two successive tournaments during the European/Mexican closed season.
CONCACAF was probably frightened by the prospect of lets say a Panama-Costa Rica final? Can you blame the Confederation for wanting to avoid this given the fact that the final will be held at 77,000 seat Giants Stadium?
But the other side is simple: Why should the United States be allowed to add seven more players all of whom participated in the Confederations Cup when Canada for instance didn’t call up several of their best players in deference to their club side? Honduras also has called a mixed squad of regulars and youngsters up for this tournament.
Had this rule change been adopted before the US participated in the Confederations Cup it would have been much more credible. The United States group opposition and potential knock out stage opposition could have prepared accordingly. The CSA for example could have struck a deal with Toronto FC to call in Dwayne DeRossario for knock out stage games, by naming him to the tournament roster but allowing him to stay at BMO Field for the time being.
Additionally, Bob Bradley who is under intense pressure to perform and juggle players in two tournaments and their club commitments could have prepared better for both events by naming a squad of players that initially incorporated the additional players. Mexico, knowing the situation could have made a decision whether or not to call such an inexperienced squad based on knowing that the US as reigning CONCACAF Champions would have seven extra spots.
I am a firm supporter of the Gold Cup. Unlike many other football fans and pundits I see a lot of value in the tournament. But truthfully, the Gold Cup worked much better as a January/February event which it was in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002. It didn’t conflict with the MLS season and the Mexican League generally made provisions to release their players for the competition.
If CONCACAF wants to continue having the tournament every two years perhaps they should shift it back to February as it was for years. Sure this would eliminate some top European based players (unless FIFA mandates their clubs release them as they do for the African Nations Cup) but would eliminate these scheduling issues with other tournaments, including the Copa America which Mexico will compete in again in 2011.