A common opinion is that there are no longer any easy games in international soccer.
Except maybe playing Cuba at home. That did seem pretty easy.
Saturday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal effectively ended as a contest less than 200 seconds after kickoff with Clint Dempsey’s opening goal of his hat trick. From then, it was always going to be a battle for the Caribbean nation, a fight as hard apparently as the off-field struggle to stop their players from defecting.
The U.S. scored four goals in 40 first-half minutes, as many as it had managed in the three group-stage contests combined. Dempsey’s trio of strikes doubled his tally in the tournament to six, and he is now the clear favorite to win the Golden Boot award for the highest scorer.
But I bet coach Jurgen Klinnsman learned more about his squad from the gritty, attritional 0-0 tie in the first round against Panama than he did from this calypso stroll in the Baltimore sun. All four qualifiers from the Caribbean made it to the last eight, but the only one now remaining emerged from the match that paired two of them together.
So Jamaica is next up for the U.S. on Wednesday in Atlanta. The previous caveat about the quality of international competition notwithstanding, the Americans should win comfortably.
The 6-0 drubbing of Cuba has quietened some grumbling and mutterings from experts and fans unhappy with the players, the coach, the tactics and the formation. But if that pedestrian victory against a nation not even ranked in the world’s top 100 did enough to provide the answers, then you were not asking hard enough questions to start.
The Reggae Boys will provide a sterner test, but the Americans have the talent, ruthlessness and professionalism to dampen their party spirit.
Broadly speaking the Jamaican roster divides in half: some earn their living here in America in the MLS while the rest ply their trade in England’s lower leagues, a tier or two below the Premier League. Most of those players are naturalized citizens, UK-born and bred but eligible for the Caribbean island through their parents or grandparents.
Like the U.S., soccer is not the most popular sport in the country but a distant second to cricket. The inhabitants of the West Indies are crazy about this colonial import, and for decades players from this region were the best in the world.
The other semifinal is right after as Part 2 of a double-header. Mexico has stumbled and bumbled its way through the Gold Cup and has looked a shadow of the slick, quick-passing, dynamic outfit of the past. But it should still have enough skill to see off fellow Central Americans Panama.
So come Sunday I think it will be the same two old rivals, Mexico and the Americans, squaring off once again for the trophy in Philadelphia — as it has been so many times in the past.