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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fixing the Gold Cup

Yesterday I wrote about the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. I mentioned the fact that this year's tournament is particularly meaningless. Several countries have sent back up squads of guys who might otherwise never see international duty. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it does bring into question the legitimacy of this year's event.
Some of the major problems with the current Gold Cup format:

  1. The event is always held in the United States (since 1991). Other FIFA federations move their respective championships to different host countries.
  2. The event is held every other year. Other federations only hold their every four years.*
  3. Every other year of the event interferes with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. This does not happen in other federations.
  4. The event occurs during the height of the Major League Soccer season. Part of this is due to the MLS having a summer schedule; most of the professional leagues in the world are on break during this time.

Suggestions for creating a more meaningful Gold Cup:

  1. Open up bidding to host the tournament in other nations. If a federation as diverse as the AFC can hold the event in different countries every four years, CONCACAF can certainly find a way. Plus the event can bring revenue and prestige to the host nation. Adding an automatic berth would allow an opportunity for a host stuck in the development stages of an international program the chance to play with the "big boys" in the federation on their home soil. Hosting such an event for a nation like Guadeloupe could have the same effect that hosting the 1994 World Cup had for the US. An increase in the quality of their domestic soccer would no doubt follow. Creating more capable soccer programs in our federation helps strengthen CONCACAF as a whole.
  2. Playing the Gold Cup every four years instead of two would make the tournament even more meaningful. By cutting the number of potential winners between World Cups in half, teams will work much harder to ensure victory in the Gold Cup. Holding the tournament in the year following the World Cup (like 2007's event) creates a comfortable niche for the Gold Cup that slots easily between other major soccer events.**
  3. Removing the second Gold Cup also frees national teams to focus on qualifying for the World Cup. Sure this year's Cup is providing some opportunities for new players, but national team coaches should not be worried about a minor regional trophy when there is a much bigger prize on the line. Due to an issue at this year's Cup, Mexico may have to use an alternate coach for the next three games, which could include World Cup qualifying considering how poorly the squad has played in the Gold Cup. This is definitely not the situation you want to be in knowing your next World Cup qualifying match is against your arch-enemy, especially when said enemy recently defeated the world's number one team. World Cup qualifications are an event unto themselves. They are virtually the opening round of the world's biggest soccer tournament. They deserve to be the primary focus of every federation.
  4. If the event was held every four years like the World Cup, it would make sense for MLS to take a break. Under the current format, MLS stands to lose too much money by stopping for a month every other year (plus World Cup years). Part of the problem is undoubtedly due to the MLS schedule, but in the crowded North American sports landscape (what other nation has five major leagues plus big money college sports?!?), MLS has to compete where it can. In addition, the harsh climate in much of the US prevents outdoor soccer during the winter months. Both MLS and the Gold Cup pretty much have to occur during the summer. Perhaps dropping the All-Star game could be the first step in a resolution...
  5. If CONCACAF feels the need to have a regional championship every other year, perhaps the later Gold Cup (2009) could be replaced by a tournament featuring U-23 squads. This would balance the World Cup and Olympic soccer programs while still helping smaller members play more games. The overall development of national soccer programs would still be similar to the current Gold Cup only now a greater emphasis would be placed on younger players. The event would interfere less with both World Cup qualifying and MLS. It would also keep the "regular" Gold Cup (in the year following the World Cup) meaningful; the event would still determine the CONCACAF champion and Confederations Cup entrant. Perhaps this is the ultimate win-win situation...

Regardless I will continue to follow the USMNT in the current Gold Cup. In the end it does not matter to me if we are fielding our A-squad or our D-squad; as long as we are performing well and winning games I will be happy. The action will continue this Saturday on FSC (Mediacom 212) as the US takes on Panama in a quarter final match. World Cup qualifying resumes on August 12 on ESPN 2 when the US travels to Mexico City hoping to get an elusive away victory against El Tri.

*The Championships of other FIFA federations:
**Schedule of major soccer events between World Cups:

  1. World Cup
  2. CONCACAF Gold Cup
  3. European Championships, Olympics
  4. Confederations Cup, World Cup Qualifying, (Currently) Gold Cup
  5. World Cup

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