By Paul Kennedy
The Gold Cup is the tournament everyone loves to hate on, from the
refereeing to the travel and playing conditions. Michael Bradley
put its best last week when he told reporters in Baltimore, "I say this with total
endearment: It's a ridiculous tournament. Between the travel, the short turnaround between games, grass being laid over turf, the weather -- it's a huge challenge."
There's even a term
for when something goes wrong at the Gold Cup: "Concacafed."
Costa Rica lost to Mexico in the dying seconds of overtime in Sunday's quarterfinals -- the Ticos were "Concacafed" if you
will -- when Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez
awarded El Tri a controversial penalty kick for an alleged push by Roy
on striker Oribe Peralta
. The theory was that Concacaf needed Mexico and its fan support in the tournament so El Tri was given a break when
American assistant Eric Boria
flagged Miller for pushing Peralta.
The problem with that theory is that almost all the 68,000 tickets for
Wednesday's doubleheader at Atlanta's Georgia Dome had already been sold by Sunday evening. It also assumes the call was wrong. Yes, Peralta fell theatrically to the ground and there was slight
contact from Miller. But a lot of calls have been worse.
Mexico coach Miguel Herrera
would not buy the argument that his team got help from Lopez
and his officiating crew.
"After so much trying [to score]," he said, "we deserved to win. I asked Oribe what happened, and he said Miller 'threw himself onto me.'"
victory did nothing to relieve the intense media pressure on Herrera and his players. Perhaps to distract attention from rumors of discord between him and his players, El Piojo took a swipe at
Concacaf organizers for the conditions of Mexico's charter flight from New York to Atlanta, where it will play Panama in Wednesday's semifinals.
"Mexico is the team that fills the
stadiums and we are not being treated well," he told reporters. "We should be getting more consideration. We had to wait three hours, then they packed two teams and Concacaf people, I don't know why.
We were all squashed."
Herrera is right about the first part. For its six games, Mexico has drawn 370,803 fans for an average of 61,800 a game. As for the travel, he should be used to it
by now as Mexico always plays a heavy schedule of international matches in the United States, filling its federation's coffers.
El Tri has criss-crossed the country this summer, beginning
in Orlando before traveling to Houston for pre-tournament friendlies, then to Chicago, Phoenix, Charlotte, New York and on to Atlanta for the Gold Cup proper. Win or lose on Wednesday, Mexico will
finish up this weekend in Philadelphia, having logged 7,217 miles in a span of 26 days on the road.
Gold Cup travel wasn't always like this. The 1991 tournament, won by the USA, was
played at the LA Coliseum and Rose Bowl. In 1993, the Gold Cup moved to Dallas and Mexico City. In 1996, it returned to Southern California for matches in Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego.
You'd think organizing the tournament in one region would have been easy, but this is Concacaf you're dealing with. Its reputation for mismanagement was born at the 1996 Gold Cup, as chronicled
by Soccer America's Mike Woitalla
in a piece for When
After Trinidad & Tobago lost to the USA in Anaheim, its bus never showed up to take the players and staff back to their hotel. A group of T&T fans arrived to help
get the team to its hotel. No sweat? Anaheim police mistook them for a bunch of hoodlums and had them spotlighted from a helicopter and brought in squad cars to investigate. T&T's day went from
bad to worse when the players finally made it back to their hotel. They discovered that $50,000 in cash and jewelry was missing from their rooms, including $20,000 in expense money.
T&T players weren't the only ones left stranded. UEFA president Lennart Johansson, in town as a guest
of Concacaf, was stuck at his hotel. His limo driver never showed.
Anything and everything went wrong with the organization of the tournament and just about every team was impacted.
Honduras won't start its match against Brazil because organizers played the wrong national anthem. The Catrachos insisted on huddling together and singing the Honduran anthem into a field
worker’s walkie-talkie for fans back home to hear them sing it.
The origins of the corruption scandals that have rocked FIFA this year go
back to the 1996 Gold Cup as the lead actors from Concacaf and Traffic, via its subsidiary, Inter/Forever, were already in place organizing the tournament. It averaged 37,495 fans a game in its third
edition. Even this year's tournament, the 13th edition, with an average of 32,703 fans a game hasn't drawn as well.
The tournament wasn't like it is today with all games live on Fox and
Univision networks. Inter/Forever sold a pay-per-view deal to bars and restaurants so fans had to pay to watch the games. During one Mexico game, the picture was lost and fans at an LA establishment
went nuts when they heard El Tri had scored. Bottles were thrown and gunfire exchanged, leaving one patron dead.
Tom Timmerman, then with the Los
Angeles Daily News, wrote that the Gold Cup was as well organized as a bus crash. Doug Cress, who had been covering international matches in Los Angeles for a
decade, said, “The pre-game ceremony is robbing one team, the post-game ceremony is robbing the other.”
Chuck Blazer -- yes, that Chuck Blazer -- took a different view, describing the tournament as a “tremendous public success.”