If loved watching the Women’s World Cup and cheering on the USWNT or last year’s World Cup in Brazil and dressing in red, white, and blue for the USMNT but think that there’s no more soccer, then you’re dead wrong. The USMNT plays in the CONCACAF Gold Cup starting July 7th. This article is your introduction to the biggest regional tournament that the US plays in. First, we break down what/who CONCACAF is, then we give some background on the tournament’s history storied history and specifics for this tournament.
What is CONCACAF?
You might think that “CONCACAF” is a bit difficult to say, but one attempt at the long version will have you begging for the acronym. CONCACAF stands for Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. Founded in 1961 as the fifth continental confederation in FIFA, it was created by merging the Central American and the Caribbean regions with the North American Confederation. CONCACAF consists of 41 member associations including all of geographic North America and the South American nations of Suriname, Guyana, & French Guiana. In terms of international success, it ranks third after UEFA (the European Region) and CONMEBOL (the South American region). Of course, that isn’t saying much because no country outside of Europe or South America has ever won a World Cup (Mexico did win the Confederations Cup in 1999 and the US has won two [soon to be three!] Women’s World Cups).
Gold Cup Winners
You might think of the Gold Cup as a mini-World Cup that only includes the CONCACAF nations. Everyone starts off in the qualification and it ends up with 12 countries to be a part of the tournament proper. USA, Mexico, and Canada automatically qualify for the tournament because they are the money-making markets, and life isn’t fair.
History of the Gold Cup
The inaugural Gold Cup was first held in 1991 and has always been hosted by the United States (again, life isn’t fair but it has a lot to do with the level of infrastructure and large immigrant populations from the other CONCACAF countries, and blah blah blah), although it has co-hosted with Mexico in the past and will co-host the 2015 iteration with Canada. The United States and Mexico have won every single tournament except for 2000 (clearly a result of Y2K), when Canada won, making a total of 6 for Mexico and 5 for the US. These aren’t the only powers in CONCACAF, however; Costa Rica currently boasts the region’s highest FIFA ranking due to their impressive performance in the 2014 World Cup and winning the 2014 Copa Centroamericana.
Each team brings 23 players to the tournament, three of which must be goalkeepers. Players are assigned numbers 1 through 23 with the number 1 jersey being reserved for a keeper. An unusual rule for this tournament is that each team that makes it past the group stage is allowed to make 6 roster changes, taken from an additional 12-man list. Prior to this rule addition no replacements were allowed. If a player was injured during the tournament, the squad was effectively cut by the number of injuries.
What are the groups?
As in the World Cup, the groups are stacked in a seeded manner so that none of the top three nations are in the same group. Every team plays the other teams in their group once. A win is worth 3 points, a draw worth 1, and a loss worth no points. The top two teams in each group advance into the knockout rounds, to be joined by the top two of the three third place teams. From them the knockouts progress until the final.
The groups are of relatively equal weight especially considering that most teams will make it into the knockout rounds. Subjectively, I would say that Group B is the only one where all of the teams are good enough to make it into the knockout rounds had they been in other groups. Haiti and Cuba are the two weakest teams in the tournament. A perennial weakling, Canada should over-perform as they are playing some of their matches in front of home crowds.
The US is the prohibitive favorite to win the tournament and will greatly benefit from home field advantage. Costa Rica and Mexico are the next most likely champions, and the winner will have to go through one (if not both) of those teams to lift the trophy. Costa Rica are missing most of the players that took them so far in Brazil with only eleven returning from that 23 man squad. Mexico’s favorite goal poacher, Chicharito, will miss the tournament having just broken his collarbone. Mexico do have a replacement in Carlos Vela, the former Arsenal man returning to the national team fold after four years after a tiff with Mexico’s FA saw him opt out of national team duty. Mexico could also bring in 22 year old Houston Dynamo forward Erick Torres, whose style of play is very similar to Chicharito. They will also be missing their best defender in Espanyol’s Hector Moreno.
The USMNT come into this tournament as favorites with a stable, successful squad, home field advantage, and as reigning champions. Seventeen players on the squad went to Brazil last year and 10 already have winners’ medals from previous Gold Cups. That being said there are some major names missing: Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones, Brek Shea, Lee Nguyen, Bill Hamid, DaMarcus Beasley, and Juan Agudelo. Landon Donovan is retired but he continues to express his annoyance with Klinsmann not giving him a call-up via snarky subtweets.
The captaincy has seen a bit of shake-up since Brazil, with Michael Bradley receiving the armband after Clint Dempsey’s outburst in the US Open Cup match against Portland. Although he received much criticism from the fans for his performance in Brazil and many at the time wanted him out of the team, Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t seem to get the message; Bradley has been ever-present in the squad, not missing a single minute of USMNT’s 2015 fixtures. And rightly so—Bradley has once again become the engine of the USMNT, driving the team to its recent, rampant success. The Americans come into this tournament with wins in friendlies against Mexico (2-0), Netherlands (4-3), and Germany (2-1) and they will be looking to use that momentum to take maximum points from their group.
Where will the matches be played?
- Final – Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
- Semi-Finals – Georgia Dome, Atlanta
- Quarter-Finals – MetLife Stadium, New Jersey & M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
- Group Stages – BoA Stadium, Charlotte; Gillette Stadium, Boston; Soldier Field, Chicago; StubHub Center, LA; U of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix; BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston; BMO Field, Toronto; Toyota Stadium, Dallas; PPL Park, Philadelphia; Sporting Park, Kansas City
The trophy is a ridiculous monstrosity that could easily crush a man or at the very least stab him in the eye with the pointy bits. This new-look trophy, first given to the winners of the 2013 tournament (that’s us!), is 20 pounds of “gold plated metal” and an inscription inside the cup reads “Forty Countries. One Confederation. One Goal.” Personally, we hope for more than one goal but we’re not in charge.
- Most Tournament Wins – 6 – Mexico
- Most Finals Appearances – 9 – USA
- Best Total Record – 48-6-7 – USA
- Overall Top Scorer – Landon Donovan – 18 goals
- Most Goals in a Single Tournament – 11 goals – Luis Roberto Alves (Mexico)
- Most Tournament Wins (Player) – 4 – Landon Donovan & DaMarcus Beasley (’02, ’05, ’07, ’13)
- Most Tournament Wins (Coach) – 2 – Bruce Arena (’02 & ’05)
Other than the shiny, possibly deadly trophy, winning the Gold Cup has another advantage. The winner of each regional tournament has a spot in the Confederations Cup, which is a sort of pre-World Cup warm up tournament. They are joined by the host nation of the upcoming World Cup (Russia, in this case) and the winner of the previous World Cup (Germany). Because the US won the 2013 Gold Cup, winning grants an automatic place in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. If we don’t win, we will play a two-legged playoff with the 2015 Gold Cup winner to determine who gets the CONCACAF spot. When the US made it into the 2009 Confederations Cup, they announced themselves on the world stage by beating Spain, the best team in the world, and were up 2-nil in the Final against Brazil, before capitulating in the second half.
These songs are always terrible, previous versions include “Waka Waka” by Shakira for the 2010 World Cup and “Cups” by Anna Kendrick for the 2013 Gold Cup, and this one fits that pattern to a tee. You can listen to “Sun Goes Down” by Robin Schulz featuring Jasmine Thompson here. Or don’t. I don’t recommend it.