It's the guys at Concacaf -- not the Americans -- who have most reason to feel aggrieved at Mexico's 5-0 walloping of the USA in the Gold Cup final.
This was the championship game, arguably the most important game in the Concacaf schedule ... and the USA makes a mockery of the whole competition by putting out a B team -- you might even argue that this was closer to a C team.
It doesn't matter that this bunch of reserves did well enough to get to the final. Their success comes over as a rather nasty slice of arrogance on the USA's part, a wish to show everyone that it didn't need to put its best players on the field.
Of course there are plenty of ostensibly cogent reasons why Coach Bob Bradley should not have put his first team on the field. The strongest, I suppose, is schedule congestion -- particularly after the USA had added two unexpected games to its commitment by reaching the Confederations Cup final.
So the players were tired and had to be rested. All of them it seems. Even though most of them are with European clubs and without any compelling duty requirements at this stage. This is not pleasant to contemplate. It shows, for the umpteenth time, the extent to which the rest of the world -- in this case Concacaf, and in particular the USA -- is willing, or is obliged, to play second fiddle to Europe.
To grasp the enormity of the situation, all you have to do is to reverse the situation and imagine a bunch of top European players playing outside Europe ... and, stretching things even further, imagine the howls of protest if they declared themselves too tired to play in the European Championship. It is simply unthinkable.
It is even more unthinkable that the national associations concerned would avoid any potential problems by simply not picking those players.
Concacaf, aware of the problem posed to the USA by the sudden conglomeration of games, made an extraordinary concession in allowing the USA to call up no fewer than seven additional players. Really extraordinary that -- particularly as the Gold Cup, as currently organized, is almost a gift to the USA. I know of no other major tournament in which one of the overwhelming favorites to win it is permanently granted the advantage of acting as host nation.
As I see it, there is really not much excuse for the USA failing to win the Gold Cup every two years. What went wrong this year was that the USA got ideas a bit beyond its station. No doubt encouraged by the tremendous Confederations Cup performance Bob Bradley felt that the collection of young, inexperienced and, in not a few cases, very ordinary players he chose to assemble under the national team banner, would do the job
They very nearly did, though the manner of their getting to the final was painful to watch. Then the USA's presumptuous approach backfired big time. The Mexicans proved not only that they were by far the better team -- the 5-0 scoreline leaves no room for argument there -- they also showed that they took the tournament seriously -- that they had respect for Concacaf.
There is not much point in my disputing Bradley's choice of players. Once the decision had been made to belittle the tournament, to avoid picking the best, or even the second best players, then the Gold Cup became little more than a training exercise for Bradley -- yet another of these "learning experiences," another chance to "look at" new players.
We got, inevitably, the by now standard platitudes from Bradley -- "I think we've had a good chance to see so many different players" is true enough, but it doesn't answer the key question: is Concacaf's grand final the event in which an experimental team should be on the field?
Sunil Gulati did no better -- "I think a lot of people were surprised that we had that much depth ..." Well, possibly they were, but the depth was brutally exposed in the end, and again one is left to ask -- was this the right occasion to be showing off supposed depth?
In this modern age, national teams play plenty of exhibition games, more than enough for a coach to be able to "take a look" at new players. One or two at a time, when their performance can be judged by assessing how they interact with the more experienced players. That is surely a much truer method of judging a player's worth than allowing him and a whole team of callow colleagues to be slaughtered by a much superior opponent.
Of course Bradley, in another plausible platitude, is correct to say that "we can ... learn from a half like that and use it the right way." He is, no doubt talking of attitude and tactics. But there is more to be learned. I suggest that the main lessons are 1: that it is not, from any point of view, a good idea to downgrade the Gold Cup to the level of a third-rate tournament; and 2: that the idea of the USA's tremendous depth of talent should be reexamined.
We have width rather than depth -- an array of similar talents. Nothing about the Gold Cup team suggested anything new or different for the future. If we haven't seen those players on the national team before, we've seen their standard talents before. Not the remotest sign of a new Donovan, I'm afraid. Just a wider spread of solid but non-exceptional talents.