So the men didn’t handle the pressure as well as the women. In contrast to the women’s semifinal win in the World Cup, the males got what they deserved and crashed out of the Gold Cup at the same stage when they lost 2-1 to Jamaica.
There are no excuses for the poor performance. Two goals behind at halftime, they roared out of the blocks in the second period and quickly pulled a goal back. But despite increasing the tempo and playing a high-pressure game, they created few clear-cut chances. Clint Dempsey, who had a hat trick in the previous round against Cuba and arguably the USA’s best player, was anonymous.
In the short term, the U.S. is consigned to the anticlimactic third-place playoff Saturday against Panama. The Central Americans lost the other semifinal 2-1 to Mexico in extra time after an action-packed contest stuffed with controversy, ugly scenes on and off the field, a debatable penalty kick and a red card.
In the longer term, it means a playoff for the right to represent CONCACAF in the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017, a dry run for the 2018 World Cup. The Americans lifted the Gold Cup in 2013. Mexico or Jamaica will win it Sunday, and the two victorious nations will meet in October to see who goes to Russia.
Representing your region provides the vital experience of taking part in an important international competition.
Russia, Germany and Chile are already confirmed participants and will be joined by the winners of the equivalent regional championships in Europe and Africa, among others. It guarantees at least three matches against high-quality opposition in the venues to be used at the World Cup in 2018.
Because here’s the problem: the Americans need more competition. Recently, they have won friendlies against powerhouses like Germany and Holland, but then they lost to the Reggae Boyz when it mattered.
They are only really tested every four years at the World Cup. With three countries assured to qualify automatically from North and Central America, they are never pushed in the years between the global tournaments.
Then they play the same teams in the Gold Cup every other year, nations ranked 30th or 40th in the world like Canada, Haiti and Cuba. These teams are simply not up to the standard of the best in Europe and South America, and pro athletes or not, it is human nature that complacency occurs.
That’s not to excuse the failure to reach the Gold Cup final. The USA has made it to every World Cup since 1990 — Jamaica has appeared once in 84 years. But Wednesday they were fired up, resilient and organized. They exploited some sloppy American defending — if a cricket-loving Caribbean island can do that, imagine what damage a world soccer giant could inflict.
Coach Jurgen Klinnsman now has some thinking and tinkering to do before that playoff in October. Perhaps the women’s coach Jill Ellis can offer some advice. …