Jay Bell sets the stage for the final two Gold Cup games
…..or is the chalice poisoned?
It’s a sobering look at the US’s performance in cup competitions since the 2007 Gold Cup if you will.
Has there been a more heartbreaking soccer allegiance than that of US Soccer fans to their men’s teams over the past six years? What’s the comp in international soccer? Ghana has had some rough breaks, but good luck getting an American soccer fan to feel bad for the Black Stars at this stage.
Is it bad luck or a statistically insignificant sampling size? Are American teams just that are constantly outplayed or outclassed by opponents just about or slightly above their equal when Mikey pushes the chips in?
Or is there a deeper problem?
I’m sorry I awoke you from your delirious Ron Burgundy unicorn dream sequence slumber, but while the US is feasting on minnows like Baxter does cheese, there are teams out their making news that’s more … that’s more … Anderson Cooper-worthy.
US players and fans have watched time and time again as chances for trophies have slipped away in numerous competitions over the past six years. Even this Gold Cup, despite the barrage of early success has some doubt; though with Mexico’s Brazil trip and Honduras having naryly escaped Costa Rica, the US must be considered the true favorite.
Think about this, the US senior team and youth teams have won just won one tournament since that gorgeous goal six years ago by “BEN-EE FEIL-HABER, YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!!”
Soak that in.
In CONCACAF, where the US is clearly one of just two juggernauts, it has managed to top the rest of the region just once in the last half decade, more so actually.
One-offs have not been kind to the US since 2007 either.
Americans do well in group play at times and have continued to find success in World Cup qualifying, but American dreams are often killed when the teams face do-or-die matches, whether in bracket play or group play. There are major exceptions, but they are outnumbered by the recent disappointments. Again, it may not be fair to consider World Cup advancement, but CONCACAF elimination?
Here is a not so brief recap of the events since that glorious 2007 Gold Cup championship:
FIFA Under-20 World Cup
A stacked US team rolled in the group stage to top Poland and Brazil to win the group. The US won 2-1 to advance past Uruguay, but fell by the same score to Austria in the quarterfinals.
FIFA Under-17 World Cup
The US finished second in the group and beat Belgium in a do-or-die match before falling 2-1 to Germany in the knockout rounds.
The US defeated Japan 1-0 on a goal by Stuart Holden and seemed headed for a 6-point start after goals by Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore gave the team a 2-1 lead late in the second match against the Netherlands. Then Gerald Sibon’s late, low free kick flew under the wall and past Brad Guzan for the Oranje to snatch a 2-2 draw.
The next match then saw the infamous elbow from Michael Orozco-Fiscal and a 2-1 defeat sent the Americans back home. It was, in fact, Honduras that won the CONCACAF qualifying competition despite failing to earn a point in China.
FIFA Confederations Cup
The glaring exception to the US’s recent failures in knockout play is the historically shocking 2-0 upset over Spain in the semifinals in South Africa. The Americans turned that tournament on its head. They looked to be steaming to a first international tournament championship when Charlie Davies sent a perfect ball to Landon Donovan, who then converted the electric fast break opportunity for a 2-0 lead. The Counterattack Heard Round The World.
Arguably the most excruciating 45 minutes ever for US Soccer fans followed as the inevitable took seemingly forever to come to fruition. The Brazilians conquered Bob Bradley’s men 3-2 that night in one of the best matches in Confederations Cup history.
CONCACAF Gold Cup
From Holden’s strike against Panama to two separate “Dos a Cero” victories over Honduras, Bradley rallied his backups to make the final against Mexico. What followed was a dismantling of the US defense–Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson cringe–and a punishing victory that gave all of the momentum in the rivalry back to El Tri.
U-20 World Cup
The US crashed out of the group stage in 2009 in the final group match to South Korea by a 3-0 scoreline. The team had also fallen in the CONCACAF final.
U-17 World Cup
The US finished second in the group before losing to Italy 2-1 in the knockout rounds. The semifinals of the CONCACAF tournament were not played due to the outbreak of swine flu.
FIFA World Cup
The other best example of Americans being victorious in a do-or-die match was the 1-0 win over Algeria to advance to the Round of 16…..where the team promptly lost to Ghana, again.
The US came together in a way few thought they would to set up a third straight Gold Cup final match with Mexico. Bradley expertly worked the semifinal match against Panama with Freddy Adu, Donovan and Clint Dempsey combining to seal the victory. The trio were back at work in the final to give the US an early 2-0 lead.
Steve Cherundolo went 17 minutes before an injury decapitated his day and the US team… “and the rest is history.” Mexico, Giovanni Dos Santos in particular, was on another level than the US for the rest of that match. 4-2, El Tri, campeónes, again.
U-20 World Cup
The US wasn’t there. The Americans fell in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF tournament to Guatemala in…Guatemala.
U-17 World Cup
This team gave the US its only championship of the last six years.
The CONCACAF champs finished second in their group at the World Cup before losing to Germany 4-1 in the round of 16.
It was a second straight disappointment for some players in this age group. The US crashed out of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament on a 94′ goal by Jaime Alas of El Salvador. Sean Johnson and others seemed to have moved past it, but it is still one of the stinging disappointments in recent US Soccer history.
U-20 World Cup
Mexico added yet another trophy in the qualifying tournament by topping the US 3-1 in the final. The Americans went on to face a gauntlet in the group stage and had a chance to advance until the final match, where they were thrashed by…Ghana.
U-17 World Cup
Another US youth team will not be competing in an international tournament for the third consecutive year after the U-17′s crashed out of the qualifying tournament. The US’s attempt at qualification ended in a loss to Honduras in Panama.
CONCACAF only began to include bracket play in youth World Cup qualifying in 2009, but even the Olympic qualifying bracket have never been kind to the US. US teams lost in the 2000 final and later failed to reach the 2004 Olympics after falling in the region semifinals.
US fans aren’t and shouldn’t be expecting constant World Cup championships and there is certainly debate, perennially and appropriately, about just how much to value these tournaments. However, if you’re there and in contention, shouldn’t a win be expected? (It sure looks like Klinsmann is aware of this very phenomenon this year, even with the increased table stakes.)
There might also hope for better performances against teams outside of the world’s elite, but itt hasn’t been Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Spain knocking the States out of these tournaments.