The 12th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup kicks off this weekend, and if you’re thinking of taking a Pasadena on this one, we humbly suggest that you think again.
The Gold Cup has an interesting, if patchwork, history, and some of the US national team’s greatest moments of all time have occurred in the regional championship, from Preki’s 1998 dagger that beat Brazil (not a misprint) to Benny Feilhaber’s golazo that struck down Mexico in 2007.
The tournament’s title has also historically come with a bid to the following year’s Confederations Cup, a ticket that turned out to be golden for the US in 2009, when they beat Spain in the Confed semis and nearly upset Brazil in the final, holding a 2-0 lead at halftime.
That’s changed now – this year’s Gold Cup winner will battle the 2015 champs for the right to compete in the 2017 Confederations Cup – and several countries, including the US and Mexico, will be sending “B” teams to the 2013 Gold Cup. But there are nevertheless plenty of reasons to tune into the action. Here are a dozen to get you started:
12. Humble, Quirky History: The Gold Cup as we know it was founded in 1991, but fútbol federations in our neck of the woods have held regional championships, off and on, since the 1940s. In the ’60s, when CONCACAF was founded, they began staging them every other year. In 1973, they upped the ante big-time by awarding the tourney champ the confederation’s lone berth in the next World Cup. Guess who snagged that first coveted bid? … Ready? … Haiti.
11. Minnows: Speaking of Haiti, who hosted that 1973 regional championship, small fries have occasionally swum pretty well with the big fish at the Gold Cup. In 2005, Panama made it all the way to the final, taking the US to penalties before falling. In 2011, Panama beat the US in group play.
10. More Minnows: In 2007, Guadeloupe – yes, Guadeloupe – made it to the final four. The US only squeaked by them 1-0 in the group stage – a win the Americans had to have to advance – and Guadeloupe shocked Honduras 2-1 in the knockout stage.
9. Minnows Who Talk Trash: This year, the US open in Portland on July 9 with a match against Belize, population 356,600. But forget the absurdly lopsided population differential, the president of the Belize Federation, Ruperto Vicente, is calling on his team to “not only beat the United States but to humiliate the United States.” I like this Vicente guy.
8. Canada Have Won this Trophy: Yes, the Canucks hoisted the Gold Cup in 2000, knocking off Colombia 2-0 in the final to complete their greatest triumph since qualifying for the 1986 World Cup. This year, they’ve got a mix of veterans and youngsters – including rising Vancouver star Russell Teibert – and will be looking to make a mark.
7. Distinguished Guests: In 1996, the tournament invited its first guest nation, pulling from the A-list with none other than the defending World Cup champions, Brazil. Mexico knocked them off 2-0 in the final for one of El Tri’s most famous victories. Brazil returned in 1998 and 2003; Colombia have competed in the Gold Cup twice, Peru once, and South Korea participated in 2002, finishing fourth.
6. MLS Represents: There were a record-tying 32 MLS players called for Gold Cup duty, across 9 of the 12 participating teams. For reference’s sake, the Liga MX has three fewer representatives – all 23 Mexican players and six US players.
5. Benny Bags a Golazo: In the 2007 final, the US went down 1-0 to Mexico just before halftime. Landon Donovan pulled one back from the spot midway through the second half and then, in the 73rd minute, Feilhaber staked a claim to a regular role with the USMNT with a 22-yard volley into the far top corner. Will we see another player seize the moment in similar fashion this year?
TEAM-BY-TEAM PROFILES: See who the USMNT must knock off to reach the final
4. Dos Santos’ Do-Se-Do: In the 2011 final between the US and Mexico (more on that below), El Tri attacker Giovani dos Santos scored a goal-of-the-year candidate with 15 minutes to go, dribbling away from a sprawling Tim Howard in a crowded 18-yard box, then lofting an inch-perfect chip to the back post – just under the bar, and over the head, of a leaping US defender.
3. Ka-sey Kell-er: Brazil returned to the Gold Cup in 1998 and met the US in the semifinals in front of a paltry 12,000-and-change at the dilapidated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. By now, though, the number of people claiming to have been there is probably double the announced attendance, as Preki found the net with a sweet strike in the 65th minute, and US ’keeper Kasey Keller made it stand up – by standing on his head – for a 1-0 US win. Afterward Brazil’s legendary striker Romário called Keller’s acrobatics the greatest goalkeeping performance he’d ever seen.
2. The US roster is intriguing: This may be a “B” team for the US, but it’s got some strong “A” accents, including the best American player of all time, Landon Donovan. The Galaxy attacker is joined by several other veterans, including Clarence Goodson, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu and Stuart Holden, and it will be fascinating to watch them blend with younger players like Joe Corona, Josh Gatt (if he’s healthy enough to go), Jack McInerney and Mix Diskerud.
1. US-Mexico Rivalry Simmering Again: Mexico have won six Gold Cups, the US four. They met in the 2011 final, and Mexico rallied from a 2-0 deficit to steamroll the Yanks, 4-2 (pictured above). It marked the end of the Bob Bradley era and, seemingly, the beginning of a new chapter of Mexican dominance. But El Tri are currently sputtering in World Cup qualifying while the US are topping the group. In a press conference last week, Mexico’s national team director, Héctor González Iñárritu, guaranteed that his side would win the tournament. The US, who bitterly remembers the 2011 trophy presentation in Los Angeles – conducted in large part in Spanish – will have something to say about that.
So might Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama. However it all shakes out, one thing is certain: It will be entertaining theater.