Archive for the ‘CONCACAF’ Category

An instant classic at the Gold Cup

It would be hard to blame anyone if they went into tonight’s Group B opener with low expectations. El Salvador (93rd in the world) vs. Trinidad and Tobago (87th) was a matchup of also-rans in a tournament with three to four legitimate contenders.

Instead, we were treated to an incredibly entertaining affair at Red Bull Arena. Rodolfo Zelaya and Kenwyne Jones put on a show while Soca Warriors goaltender Jan Jan Williams made a game saving stop on Zelaya at the death. The game finished with the teams tied 2-2. Honduras takes on Haiti in the second Group B game later tonight.  Here are some of the best plays from a great game. Low expectations rule.

Zelaya’s first goal


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I honestly don’t know. I promise this is not going to be a classic troll job in which I get high and mighty about which tournaments are legit and which are not because I somehow know better than you, but seriously: what is this thing for?

Yesterday on the Counter Attack Podcast, Sean Keay made a very good case for why winning the Gold Cup would be the worst possible scenario for Canada. I know, I know.

But you can instantly see why: here’s a team with a bunch of Unattached FC stars, some fairly significant absences, and an interim national team coach who is now about an hour away from transforming in front our eyes into a lame duck (Watch it happen LIVE on Sprotsnet 1080). If Canada wins the damn thing (don’t worry, ain’t going to happen), then suddenly the nation convinces itself that all is well, and efforts to reform the national program are ignored and the pressure is off for a while.

If instead they do as expected and do okayish before going out in ignoble fashion, then Canada are further derided as a national embarrassment and the classic, familiar, soul-crushing apathy kicks in. Maybe we go back to the days when the nats play “away games” at BMO Field.

And then there’s the Klassik Kanada option: a spirited, if sloppy, team performance. Some incredible bright lights shine. Will Johnson becomes the tournament’s goal-scoring leader (somehow). Then the team goes out to, oh, I don’t know, the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in the semifinal on the back of some incredibly dodgy calls. Conspiracy theories ensue. Self-loathing comes after that. Annnnd: scene.

And then the final, as it is already engineered, will be a glorified friendly between the US and Mexico. The US will lose, there will be some tepid comparisons to the fall of Bob Bradley and the questionable pedigree of Juergen Klinsmann, and then no one will speak of the 2013 Gold Cup ever again.

I am willing to put money down on ZERO available Getty images on the tournament prior to the final, always the canary in the coal mine for relevance. I’m not saying they should scrap the Gold Cup, but dignity please. We’re in the midst of an MLS summer season, there are, as ever, bigger fish to fry. Something needs to be done.

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It’s hard to imagine a time when there has been less interest in the men’s national team in Canada than today.

It will take a long time for the stain of 8-1 to wear off the Nats and even the most loyal of fans is struggling to get up for games as they go through the motions following the end of the county’s (naive) Brazilian dream.

This is the environment in which interim manager Colin Miller is operating in as he put the final touches on a makeshift and exceptionally untested Gold Cup line-up, which was released yesterday.

Eight of the players named to Canada’s 22-man (there is still time to add one additional player) will be making their Gold Cup debut. Additionally, four of those called-up play for that long-standing provider of Canadian talent, Unattached FC.

The Canadian men’s reigning player of the year, Atiba Hutchinson, and the all-time scoring leader, Dwayne DeRosario, will be watching from home.

Combine that with what is likely the toughest group in tournament (hello Mexico and Panama – along with trickier than many imagine Martinique) and, well, it could get ugly.

The question is, then, does it matter?

Considering that the general level of interest is so low and that this Gold Cup features mostly second choice line-ups and factoring in that we are still two years away from the games that really matter (and three from when CONCACAF qualifying gets tricky for Canada), maybe a weak three matches and out should be expected and accepted for Canada.

It’s defeatist thinking, but one can appreciate how someone might entertain the idea.

Except the truth is Canada cannot afford to embarrass itself again. That 8-1 loss is too fresh and the punch lines cut too close to the bone.

The Canadian national team risks becoming irrelevant to fans if it goes down to the tournament and bombs out. All of the gains that were made over the last four years in terms of home support will be go away. The new fans that came to the program will likely abandon it, their suspicions about this country’s place in world football confirmed. And, besides, this is our confederation championship. That alone should be enough to motivate both players and fans alike.

It will not be easy, but most understand that the challenge is great. In announcing the roster, Miller suggested that a quarterfinal appearance would be an acceptable building block for the program.

He’s right, with one caveat. Regardless of the final standing, one would hope that this group of young Canadians will win or lose with a bit of pride.

Pride was something that was desperately needed in Honduras and Panama when the heat, fans and pressure caused players that were supposed to represent this country’s best chance at a World Cup birth in a generation to wilt.

So, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing that so few of that crew is part of this Gold Cup roster. It’s a fresh start and it can’t possibly be worse than if was the last time they played a meaningful game.

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The Lead

European World Cup qualifiers are what put asses in the seats, but the football drama seems to be lingering squarely in the middle of the Western hemisphere. Last night, the United States made history with a 0-0 draw in the Azteca stadium. It was, as Jeff Carlisle wrote this morning, only the “second in its history” that the US managed to secure a point at the Azteca in qualifying.

There will be quibbles with the aesthetic of the US national team in their draw, particularly as Mexico managed 19 attempts to the USA’s 1. But that’s the nature of CONCACAF: it’s a dirty, mud and snow soaked horror show right until the dying stages. You watch these things with an upset stomach, not a stimulated mind—why else would DaMarcus Beasley be out there? The US clearly did what they needed to defensively to leave the Azteca hype for another day.

Meanwhile the Hex table speaks for itself, even at this relatively early-ish stage. Panama is first, followed by Costa Rica, the USA and Honduras, all tied on 4 points and separated by goal differential. Meanwhile Mexico is in fifth on three points. This is of course bound to change significantly as the campaign progresses, but is already far from your dad’s Hex.

As for the Brazil-less CONMEBOL, Uruguay’s struggle to compete continued yesterday with a 2-0 loss to Chile, a game that may lead to a lengthy suspension for Luis Suarez for punching Gonzalo Jara in the first half (he’s already out of the next game against Venezuela on yellows). If you don’t think that’s a bad thing, Suarez has been scoring a lot of goals this campaign with a total of 8, tied with Lionel Messi. Uruguay are struggling this time around, two points outside the playoff spot.

Finding all this compelling doesn’t make you a hipster. It makes you a conscious person who likes football.
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Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Both teams pleaded with referee Joel Aguilar to keep the match going. At least that’s what the commentators on the ESPN broadcast led us to believe. While it did look as though the visitors did want to continue as they began to carry play in the second half, apparently, that wasn’t the case.

Via Reuters:

Ten minutes into the second half, Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto wanted referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador and match commissioner Victor Daniel of Grenada to suspend the game, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a case for playing on. Play continued after some heated discussion. Pinto was angry during and after the game. “I asked them to stop. They should suspend the ref,” Pinto said. “It was an embarrassment. It was an insult to Costa Rica and people coming in here.”

More from midfielder Cristian Bolanos:

“Honestly, it was robbery, a disgrace, I’ve never played a game in these conditions,” midfielder Cristian Bolanos told Reuters. “You couldn’t see the ball … if we had played without snow, we would have won, I am sure.”

Reuters reports Costa Rica plans to file an official protest with FIFA. Something tells me this won’t be the last we’ve heard of this.

It wasn’t the Heat or the Lakers. It wasn’t Georgetown losing in the first round to the fifteenth seed in Philadelphia. The sporting event that captivated non-footy mad Americans around the country was a soccer game. That’s pretty damn special. The U.S.A moved to second place in the Hex, beating Costa Rica 1-0 thanks to a Clint Dempsey goal in the first half. The main story here, however, was the conditions in Denver.

Kudos to the Costa Ricans for playing on in less than ideal conditions. A brief stoppage in the second half ended after protests from both teams.

Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier
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The LA Galaxy’s Villarreal scores a neat little goal against Costa Rica’s Herediano FC. When will this competition stop being so damn fun?