It was not even a year ago that the most important goal in U.S. soccer history since 1950 was scored in South Africa.
Regardless of whether you were a die-hard, a new fan, a casual observer, or just someone who knew one, the moment the U.S. Men’s National Team won their group at the 2010 World Cup Final was a watershed event.
So here we are, a year removed, on the eve of another international tournament. Summon back your enthusiasm, your frenzy, your national pride. The Gold Cup is here again, and for the U.S., it’s not a tournament about “survive and advance.” It’s about “win the damn thing for the fifth time.” Sound like fun?
For novices, the Gold Cup is our continental tournament, the main competition between all the national teams of CONCACAF, which comprises most of North and Central America. The tournament is held every two years, in year before and the year after a World Cup.
The key difference from the World Cup is that this is a tournament that, in its current form, is tailor-made for U.S. success. The Yanks have hosted or co-hosted the last 11 tournaments, playing in front of more friendly crowds than they’re used to (with healthy doses of Mexican and Honduran supporters) and keeping travel to a minimum. The men’s national team last hoisted the Cup in 2007, their fourth victory, and have only been outpaced by rival Mexico, who won it for the fifth time in 2009.
Last June, much was made of a rivalry between the United States and England leading up to the teams’ opening match of the 2010 World Cup. While there was certainly some good-natured ribbing, the rivalry was largely a convenient piece of manufactured media hype. Many U.S. soccer fans also pay close attention to the English Premier League, and have affinities and familiarity with a good deal of the players that made up England’s side. While the 1-1 draw on June 12, 2010 was exciting and set the tone for rest of the Americans’ tournament, it wasn’t about the former colony and the former empire. It was two good teams who rarely see each other, one lucky to get away with the draw and the other left scratching their English noggins.
Be it in the Gold Cup, World Cup Qualifying, the World Cup itself, or just a “friendly,” the United States’ truest and most formidable rival is and has always been Mexico. The Tricolores have been a thorn in the American side many a time, with the United States seemingly unable to penetrate the fortress that is Estadio Azteca. The two sides are once again the strongest in the Gold Cup, and it will take a mighty effort from Honduras or Costa Rica to put a stop to that.
So, the stage is once again set for a U.S.-Mexico final, with Mexico already getting off to a dominant start thanks in large part to their Manchester United star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Tonight, the U.S. will open up group play against Canada, followed by Panama and Guadeloupe.
The pressure is absolutely on for the largely-familiar U.S. squad. After an admittedly undermanned edition of the team took a 4-0 thrashing from Spain on Saturday, a rebound tonight will go a long way to restoring both confidence and interest from the casual fanbase. A poor showing at this tournament could further call into question Bob Bradley’s position as U.S. skipper for 2014 Brazil. A win? Well, a win is what U.S. supporters crave. High expectations are what they, and the team, have. After all, this is not the World Cup. The Yanks are not the underdogs, not by a long shot. This is the Americans’ tournament. Well, ours and Mexico’s. Let’s see who’s left standing.