Whether it is players, stadiums or officials, the CONCACAF Gold Cup is truly a showcase for MLS. The league has placed the most players on this tournament spread among the 12 qualified nations and MLS players ( and MLS bound players) have made a huge impact already on the tournament.
MLS players, Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers, as well as incoming (and former) MLSer Ali Gerba have all scored goals in this tournament. Gerba, the one time Miami Fusion, Pittsburgh Riverhound and Montreal Impact player now has six lifetime Gold Cup goals, all from the run of play which in the short history of this tournament, ranks near the very top for strikers. Gerba joins TFC, after the Gold Cup concludes for Canada.
Other MLSers like Omar Cummings, Tyrone Marshall, Donovan Ricketts, Dejan Jackovic, Alfredo Pacheco, and Kyle Beckerman have also played a key role in this tournament thus far. By comparison, the rival FMF which, I often concede is a better league than MLS has not shown much positive in this competition. Mexico’s struggles continue on the national team level, while El Tri relies on players who don’t even play the key role for some of their clubs, because of the dependence many FMF sides have on South American players. (If you want to see the FMF’s real impact watch COMNEBOL qualifying where the second and third place teams currently, Chile and Paraguay are very dependent on Mexican based players.)
The venues for this competition are almost all MLS Stadiums. With the exception of Miami, which historically has hosted more Gold Cup matches than any other city (Los Angeles has hosted more but have been split between Pasadena pre 2003 and Carson since then) and Phoenix every venue is in an MLS market. With SUM running the event at these stadiums, this tournament has once again portrayed MLS in a positive light.
However, a negative side of the coin appears when officiating is brought into the picture. CONCACAF has an issue which has persisted for many years with officials. For lack of a better way of putting it, Latin officials (from all over the region except the Caribbean) are accused of favoring the style of Latin teams while Anglophone officials (from the Caribbean mostly) are accused of being favorable towards the United States and other non Latin teams.
Jair Marufo, has already been the subject of much controversy this year in MLS. Yet, Marufo was allowed to officiate in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and made several strange and favorable calls to Costa Rica last night versus Jamaica. I don’t like ethnic based biases in football, one way or another, so I hope the accusations of biases by Marufo are accidental. But I firmly believe Marufo should not be allowed to officiate a match in a continental tournament irrespective of whether he is biased or not.
On the other hand, Courtney Campbell of Jamaica has been assigned to the US-Honduras game tonight. Campbell is a good official, but when the USMNT or US based club teams are involved he finds himself shrouded in controversy. Last year, he controversially denied Santos Laguna several penalty shouts in a Superliga match against Chivas USA.
Then a week later, Campbell’s work in New England’s Superliga semifinal win over Atlante, was shrouded in controversy. Later in 2007, he struck Santos again in a CONCACAF Champions League group stage loss to the Puerto Rico Islanders of USL-1, another game that was controversial in Mexico.
Campbell, has also been fingered in the Mexican and Central American press for awarding the US National Team phantom penalties and fouls. While I don’t buy into this charge, it is out there and the fact that the USA earned penalties in four straight 2007 Gold Cup matches and in the last two World Cup qualifiers fuels this fire.
I happen to think Campbell is a good official and in many cases, simply seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this having been said, CONCACAF and its officiating problems resemble that of MLS who has supplied many of the referees for this tournament.
The officiating discussion aside, this tournament is a chance for MLS to shine brightly. Last year, on American TV we were subjected to Andy Gray’s biased and ignorant commentary during the Euros when it applied to players who either played for Chelsea or did not play in the Premier League. When Gray, provided analysis of the German team for instance, his lack of interest or knowledge about German football came through vividly to anyone who watches that league. The same can be said for Gray’s opinions about the Italian National Team and Serie A.
If the player did not hail from the Premier League or La Liga they were largely invisible to Gray’s typical British punditry.
But in Max Bretos and Christopher Sullivan, FSC has two presenters who know MLS like the back of their hand and also know the region well. The Univision, family of networks have provided commentators, who though biased also get the big picture of CONCACAF and know MLS well.
So unlike the last Continental Championship on American TV when we were subject to incredible bias, fans can appreciate the impact of MLS and learn about the region the USMNT and Canadian National Team play in at the very same time.