For anybody who watched the semifinal and final matches for the U.S. Women’s National team, seeing the U.S. Men’s National team survive through the group stage at this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup has been a stark reminder about just how far we have to go as a nation to really get into the top football/soccer discussion.
Through the three group matches, the U.S. put in a surprisingly poor performance each of the games. They never won a match by more than one goal. They let Haiti essentially dominate the second match before Clint Dempsey came up with his third goal of the tournament. And then they had to settle for a 1-1 draw that gave supporters a whole lot more questions than this tournament has answered with regard to the back line.
But while it’s easy to get very frustrated by the way the Americans have played so far in this tournament, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind. This is the first tournament in this World Cup cycle. And that World Cup in 2018 in Russia is a whole lot more important than some measly CONCACAF tournament.
Actually, in this same position four years ago, the U.S., despite making it to the championship match, was in nearly the same type of position. They ended the group stage with just six points, dropping a 2-1 decision to Panama and just squeaking by Guadeloupe with a 1-0 victory. The Americans did get to the final against Mexico in the Rose Bowl, but after taking a 2-0 lead, gave up four straight goals to the Mexicans to lose that in embarrassing fashion.
But as bad as that tournament was, that World Cup cycle got immensely better for the U.S. Head coach Bob Bradley was fired and Jurgen Klinsmann was brought in. The U.S. then won at Mexico in a friendly for the first time and utterly dominated the “Hex” to qualify for the World Cup while winning the 2013 Gold Cup. And at the World Cup, the Americans managed to survive the “Group of Death.” So there is some hope for a bad start to the cycle.
And at this point in the World Cup cycle, it’s about getting some new guys into the squad, getting them experience with the national team and seeing whether they can sink or swim. Four years ago, guys like Graham Zusi and DeAndre Yedlin were unknown to the country, but they announced their presence during the last cycle. Now, it’s likely guys like Gyasi Zardes, Aron Jóhannsson, Lee Nguyen and Jordan Morris who could do just that in the next four years, but they have to get playing time and no time like the present to do just that.
Now, it’s not exactly fun to not be dominating teams the U.S. should have no problem beating and the Haiti and Panama matches were more stress than enjoyment.
But right now, the end goal is not to win the Gold Cup. Yes, it might be a step along the way, but you’d be lying if you said you’d rather have a 2015 Gold Cup title over a very successful run at the 2018 World Cup.
So take the lumps now in hopes that it means a much better World Cup in three summers.