Revisiting the Gold Cup Final and its Impact on CONCACAF
In the past few weeks much criticism has been levied at those, including myself who made an effort to critique the 5-0 loss in the Gold Cup Final by the United States to Mexico.
After all what difference does a 5-0 loss make to your biggest rivals when you are playing a “C” team and they are playing an “A minus” team? But further reflection on that sorry July 26th afternoon at Giants Stadium makes the US program look even worse than before. Not only was it the worst US loss in a competitive match since 1957, but the squads were not as unbalanced when compared against one another, as advocated by many. It was thought by some that losing 5-0 wasn’t a big deal, even though the US had played many matches with a similarly watered down squad in the recent past ( even some against Mexico) and had never looked so terribly outclassed.
Before we get to specifics, let me re-state my perspective on the US Gold Cup performances. When many other blogs and websites were saying the US looked disorganized and unimpressive against Honduras and Panama in the knock out stages, I complimented the US effort and the resiliency of a team that very well could have been outclassed.
Some other websites thought beating Panama in Extra Time was not acceptable. I argued strongly to the contrary. I actually was more favorable after that game the majority of other writers. I was pleased with the victory, actually having doubted the US’ ability to overcome a full Panamanian side with a watered down player selection.
That’s because I spend time evaluating our opposition, unlike even some mainstream media writers who simply make assumptions as if the USMNT exists in a vacuum. (This varies from writer to writer- some like Ives Galacrep do a credible job of scouting the US’ upcoming opposition, others who will remain nameless pretend as if every US opponent is the same, particularly if they are in CONCACAF and are not Mexico.) I knew the tactics and style Gary Stempel was bringing to that match and covered it as such. I also knew Blas Perez gives any US defender, including Gooch fits.
Furthermore, I even gave the US more of a pass on the Haiti game because I watch Haiti often in person and rate them higher than the US fans/journalists who couldn’t name more than one of their players before that night.
Football, like any other sport is about matchups and tactics. In many cases this area of coverage is lost by American football writers.
Accordingly, being pleased with the US side heading into the final, the 5-0 thrashing did not deserve the pass so many people gave it. Mexico could have traveled to Cyprus or Belarus with that squad and struggled to win by more than two goals.
What Javier Aguirre did with the Gold Cup squad was experiment. He called in a number of players with scant international experience and baptized them by fire. This was by no means an “A” squad. Of the fourteen players that featured for Mexico in the final, only five had previously played in a qualifying match. Now, Mexico has featured eight of the fourteen in qualifying. One of the new additions to that list was twenty eight year old Miguel Sabah, who had never been capped for Mexico prior to this summer. Sabah, you will recall provided the touch of class needed for Mexico to turn its on the pitch superiority into a positive result versus the US at Azteca less than three weeks later.
The US, on the other hand was given a break by CONCACAF. Seven additional players were made eligible for the tournament. But of these seven, only one, Benny Feilhaber was used by Bob Bradley. Additionally, the US knew they would lose several players to European clubs during the course of the tournament, yet did not have sufficient cover within the selected squad for many of these players.
Considering Mexico was experimenting with young and in-experienced players, the United States was not at the disadvantage some may have claimed after the match. In fact, the USA may have had an overwhelming advantage, if the additional players made eligible for the tournament had been called into action.
The US also featured fourteen players on July 26th in the final, and of that group, five had previously played in qualifying for the US. Since that match, Stuart Holden, Kyle Beckerman and Chad Marshall have been selected for qualifiers, bringing the US total, like the Mexican one for that day to eight.
I will concede that the eight Mexican players that have featured in qualifying play a more prominent role than the Americans. It is not really fair to compare Gio Dos Santos to Kyle Beckerman. But the continued justification of the result on Mexico fielding many more regulars is simply false- it is an opinion that cannot be backed up reality or facts.
What that match provided for Mexico, was a confidence boost and a belief in Javier Aguirre, his system and his player selections that have served Mexico well going forward. This match has allowed El Tri to feel as if they have overcome the dominance the US previously exercised over them (this was far from the first time the US featured a watered down squad against Mexico in a match this decade, yet we have had not seen a match so one sided in the series in a generation) and regain its aura over opponents in CONCACAF.
After a summer that saw the US defeat Spain and defy the odds in several other matches, we may look back at July 26th and the Gold Cup Final as the day it all began to come apart. The US hegemony over CONCACAF was effectively ended, with Mexico’s three year crisis of confidence, finally over turned.