No excuse for USA's Gold Cup performance

By Paul Gardner

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.


11 comments about "No excuse for USA's Gold Cup performance".
  1. George Gorecki, July 30, 2009 at 8:40 a.m.

    Sorry, Paul. You've got this one wrong.

    The blame should be placed on CONCACAF for staging the confederation tournament every two years. How much sense does it make to place this tournament in the middle of the Hexagonal? The Hexagonal is very tight halfway through and teams are rightly placing the emphasis on qualifying for the 2010 WC finals. Mexico and Honduras also did not bring their very best players, as they (and the USA did) did in 2007. Do we really need to have a Gold Cup every other year? Four years seems to work for the Euro and Copa America.

    I agree with your point that the USA should not treat the regional championship as a training exercise. But given the circumstances, could it really have gone down any other way? You say that there would be howls of protest if players declared themselves too tired to play in the European championship. So then I am left to wonder what Italy and Spain would have done if the European championship tournament began a week after the end of the Confederations Cup. Would they have sent full-strength rosters to both competitions? Oh right, the scheduling of the Euros and the Confederations Cup are coordinated.

    CONCACAF could learn a lesson here. But I guess when Jack Warner sees 55,000 at Soldier Field and 70,000 at Giants Stadium, he probably wonders if he can find a way to keep milking the cash cow and stage the Gold Cup every year.

  2. Oswald Viva, July 30, 2009 at 8:44 a.m.

    I agree with you completely. Another example of this less than respectful atittude was the team sent to the Copa America a couple of years ago. The U.S. accepted the invitation to play in that prestigious tournament and then sent a "B" team that predictably did lousy. The US Soccer Federation and Bob Bradley must assume the responsibility of showing the best - whenever possible - and not using international tournaments as practice games or experiementation opportunities.

  3. Michael Polonski, July 30, 2009 at 10:40 a.m.

    I agree with George. Having the Gold Cup only once every four years, preferably the year after the World Cup, makes more sense with all of the other competitions that exist. There are too many demands on MLS players while their league campaign is in full swing and Bradley made the right move by using a "B" team. The odd exhibition is not nearly enough of a test to determine a player's value at the international level. We are all upset about the loss to Mexico but the fact remains that Stuart Holden, Kyle Beckerman, and several others grew tremendously from their participation in this tournament and if it helps the USA to do well next year in South Africa, this experiment will be deemed a success.

  4. Kent James, July 30, 2009 at 11:33 a.m.

    I was going to agree with Paul Gardner's assessment, but George's comment changed my mind. Having the Gold Cup too frequently devalues it, so the blame there lies with CONCACAF. And Michael is right about the emergence of some genuinely skillful players, who should be able to contribute to the A team (primarily Stuart Holden). Additionally, I think there is some value in being able to play all new players against Mexico in 2 weeks, which is probably the more important game. But where Gardner is still right is the problem of evaluating players at this level when everyone is new. Better to try them a few at at time, to let them play with the guys with whom they would be playing with the full national team.
    Finally, anyone watching the game would also have to give the US the edge in the first half. Mexico learned from their poor performance in the first half, and instead of launching long balls up the middle (which I think they lost every time), they started to play short passes and quick combination play and shredded the slower, tiring US defense. My hope is that Mexico will have revealed its hand, and Bradley can make sure we have some speed and quickness in the back to counteract this threat in Mexico city. If the US is able to do that, then playing the B team would have been a wise decision.

  5. Russell Borland, July 30, 2009 at 11:50 a.m.

    One other point about this year's Gold Cup--and it's connected to the problem of holding the tournament every 2 years instead of every four years: Two years ago, when the US won the Gold Cup, it was a qualification for the Confederations Cup. Bob Bradley wanted to win the 2007 Gold Cup because he wanted his team to have tournament experience in South Africa ahead of the World Cup. The 2009 Gold Cup had no such cache. Also, even though Aguirre has called up 10 of the 12 starters for Mexico's Gold Cup final roster, Mexico had only 4-5 players who are seriously considered starters and members of the roster for the coming qualifier against the US. Mexico sent a B team, even though Aguirre disputes that assessment. One last thought: The European players who might have benefited--most notably Beasley and Adu--are trying to win significant playing time at their clubs, and Onyewu is learning (not very well so far) to fit in at AC Milano so that they can gain or regain form for future playing time with the US National Team.

  6. David Sirias, July 30, 2009 at 1:06 p.m.

    Yes, the Gold Cup needs to mean something and that is every four years. But Paul you are spot on when you say that there are plenty of exhibitions in which to gauge depth and blood young players. Two glaring examples of Bob Bradley incompetence: First , Stuart Holden , Torres, and Beckerman, and Cooper needed to be seen with the first team, a long time ago, rather than valuable minutes wasted with EJ and Josh Wolff , and excessive minutes given to Bradlky junior and Beasley the last year. The effects of Bob's parochial outlook on team building are like eczema-- you try to ignore it, but it always comes back because the underlying cause is not treated . Second, there are places for a full B/C team, the Gold Cup is never such a place. You never never ever try to take your foot off the throat of your main rival in world football. We are not that good. Bob just did......

  7. Brian Kenny, July 30, 2009 at 2:33 p.m.

    I agree with 'The Gloom Merchant' only to the extent that the CONCACAF Gold Cup is third rate. How can it not be? When you have a man like Jack Warner governing the confederation! This is what needs to be done:
    There needs to be a true Copa America. Eight teams from CONCACAF and eight teams from CONMEBOL qualify. The tournament is held every four years. Host selection rotates between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. The tournament should be held AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as the European Championships. As it stands, the Copa America and Gold Cup are thrid rate. A distant third behind the Wolrd Cup and European Championships. A combined competition would rival, if not surpass, the European Championships instantly.

    The only thing preventing this from happening is power hungry, greedy little men with no vision (see Jack Warner).

    Otherwise, Mr. Gardner can rant all he wants about Bob Bradley and the USA team. They made it to the final. It was scoreless at halftime and then they collapsed. Very disapointing,...but not shameful or blameworthy.

  8. Gus Keri, July 30, 2009 at 4:40 p.m.

    A great article and great comments

    First, I wonder what we mean with the terms "A team", "B team" and so on.
    If the size of the team 22 players, then Mexico played with their A team reserves or substitutes while The US played with their B team starters.
    If the size of the team is 11 players, then Mexico played with their B team and The US played with their C team.

    I thought The US did great throughout the tournament and their collapse at the end reflects the lack of experience in this situation, nothing more. And this is nothing to be ashamed of. There are so many stories of similar collapse by many stronger teams. I remember the home defeat by Germany against England 5-1 in 2001 as an example. Things happen.

    The other issue is the organization of the cup every two years. We are looking at it from the prospective of the top CONCACAF teams (mainly The US and Mexico). Remember that only these teams that played in Copa America or the confederatoon cup where the conflict exists. What about the other 30-something teams? In Africa, Also, they have their nations' cup every two years. The increased frequency of the tournament is good for the whole confederation. It improves their playing standard and their infrastructures. I believe that the Gold Cups have made all the teams in the area better.
    Could it be better organized and scheduled? Yes! But you need to continue providing the confederation with a good level of competitions.
    I like the idea of expanding Copa America. Instead of organizing two Gold Cups in a 4 year cycle, you can play one Gold Cup and qualifying games to Copa America that will insure the continuous playing experience to all the teams of the confederation.

  9. Darwin Chozo, July 31, 2009 at 3:57 a.m.

    I agree with this article, why did Bradley chosse to play with this infamous B team, why didn't he at least bring couple of the big guys from the "A" team and when was time for experience put them in. now the problem is the mexico thinks they're #1 in concacaf, and how our guys are going to play the next game for the CONCACAF qualifiy world cup game against mexico wich defeated us 5-0. The other point is, must be someone watching over Bradley to tell him, i believed you should call the US team who played in the Cofedaration CUP and leaved the exercises for the MLS. Also who rejected the invitation for the Copa America couple years ago, USSA. The US soccer association should be more seriuos about this competitions, because this competitions make us more experience and respect over the world.

  10. J Williams, July 31, 2009 at 2:23 p.m.

    I disagree with Mr. Gardiner's premice in that it was a good choice of players under the circumstances. They played fairly well up until seven minutes into the second half of the final and then their spirit broke. Why? The Mexican forward pulls down Jay Heaps in the penalty area and is rewarded with a penalty kick. Then a few minutes later the Mexicans get a second goal after both of their forwards were offside. I was taping the game and replayed both situations several times afterward to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I saw the two prior US games that the Jamaican referee did and when he was announced for the final, I knew we would lose.

  11. Matthew Martin, August 1, 2009 at 4:04 p.m.

    WOW! Great points made by all- ultimately I have to say that there is some arrogance and in some cases over confidence that has to be guarded against which makes Mexico's thorough second half thrashing of the US "B" TEAM a VALUABLE LESSON for all US players - not just the unfortunates who were takien to the wood shed. I believe that CONCACAF must expect this to happen again as long as they over saturate the schedule but that FAR from disrespecting the tourney Bob Bradley gave a lot of solid MLS performers and fence sitters (not the best at their position but worthy of a look) a chance ALL AT ONCE. It isn't hard to see why Beckerman deserved a shot for example and with an injury to Bradley we could need Beckerman for qualifiers. The same goes for many others. I read blogs where Marshall was written off as a result of this favor of who? We're just not so
    deep and impervious to injury on the A team that we can assume that we can fill in onesy twosy no matter what....The backups have to play PERIOD! AND THIS WAS THE TIME AND THEY GOT FAR! Sorry Mr Gardner but the POOR PLAY OR DIFFICULT TO WATCH MATCHES? Where or what dimension have you lived in that the US REGULARLY PLAYS BEAUTIFUL FOOTBALL? I loved beating Spain but we were outshot 3-1 correct? Here is reality: WE WIN UGLY MOST OF THE TIME! You can keep pulling us towards a better path and a better future - PLEASE KEEP DOING THIS! But, to assert that this demonstration was somehow terrible in its aesthetic value - well, might as well not develop anyone because we just don't ever look like's some news: even Brazil doesn't look like Brazil anymore! They are more like watching Inter - brutally effective at getting a set piece goal or physically overpowering you - vs dribbling and passing with elan. I think what you are fighting for is admirable BUT despite your claim that Bradley has got it wrong I think he has earned his shot to continue doing it HIS WAY and I for one am going to see how we do in 2010....I just don't think he has the same material to Work with as the top teams (Spain, Italia, Brazil) and yet we can play with them......keep asking the questions and challenging the methods but remember, Bradley got farther than any US manager has ever attack the methodology now - well, its premature!

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