I never really understood why the World Cup is so much bigger than the Olympics or any other international competition when it was the only soccer I ever watched. It's hard to put into context where the national teams fit in with the domestic leagues and club teams (and the big money, in particular). The truth is, the FIFA system is completely different than any other sport. When it's time for the USA basketball team to play in the Olympics, we slap together our All-Stars have them train for a few weeks and send them off to the tournament. In soccer it's so much more organized that there are games and camps year-round and the team has a full-time coach. This allows national teams to develop together and gain that level of camaraderie an Olympic basketball team could never get.
The recently appointed US Mens National Team coach, Bob Bradley, took a team of international and MLS players to the CONCACAF Gold Cup starting last Thursday. If you don't know what CONCACAF stands for, just remember that it means North America. Basically what that means is that the USA and Mexico come in as the overwhelming favorites. CONCACAF is not known as a strong region, and that's an understatement. It sucks.
The USA was placed into the region with Guatemala, El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago (am I the only one who always forgets this country isn't in Africa) and opened with Guatemala Thursday. It was a frustrating game because of the style of play of the Guatemalans. Particularly Carlos Ruiz who, from the two games I've seen him play, has shown a penchant for diving and under-cutting defensemen in the air. By the end of the game I wanted to jump through the screen and slap him around myself. Apparently Gooch Onyewu felt the same way because he got a pair of yellow cards after dealing with the little shit. The US team, who should have scored several goals, held on after going a man down and won the game 1-0.
Does it sound pretentious to complain about a 1-0 win? If so, fuck it. The team looked out of sync and almost always a step slow on defense. Onyewu played just about as bad he could have and the same old story perpetuated itself: a total lack of finishing. Thank god for Dempsey.
Saturday's game brought an almost entirely new lineup and a fresh start against what was basically the T&T JV team (there was a dust up over players getting paid for the WC, so almost all of them sat out the Gold Cup). And, it was the same old story. Justin Mapp was the best player on the pitch until Donovan came in after halftime. Mapp hit a cross that basically bounced off Brian Ching to go in. Donovan then did just about the same for Eddie Johnson (who was pleasantly un-terrible for most of this game) on a break away. The back four was a little more solid in this game and I enjoyed watching the outside backs push up and make runs into the box, but this was not a good team and they gave the US fits for most of the game.
Again, the good news was a 2-0 win against a team they should have beat. USA officially advances to the quarterfinals and can play for seeding. The real bad news of the two games so far has been the officiating. In the Guatemala game, their midfielders got tired and were absolutely crushing our players. It was a disgusting display and truly shocking that CONCACAF couldn't do any better. It's a wonder no Americans got hurt. A new crew on Saturday night brought a whole new set of bullshit. One particular referee's assistant on the sideline made no less than FOUR indefensible offsides calls against US players and one awful out-of-bounds call. The announcers mentioned that he is from Cuba. Figures, commies.
So, what have we learned from two games into our regional tournament? First, CONCACAF sucks, as predicted. Anytime Canada can lose to Guadeloupe, and Mexico drops a turd against Honduras, you know we're not talking about world powers here. We've also learned that the USA team hasn't really fixed what was ailing them.
All that said, if you're one of the denizens who complains that watching the US Soccer team blows because they never win, this is the tournament for you. They've won it before and have to be the favorite after this weekend. Up next is El Salvador on Tuesday night (FSN) and then the quarterfinals to follow and hopefully a finals match up vs Mexico. I know I'll be watching.