For once it is the men in the shadow of the women.
You may not even have noticed that 48 hours after the historic women’s World Cup victory, the American men started their defense of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Right here on home soil.
Is this the first time in our sporting history that a professional female team has eclipsed its male counterpart? The adulation and blanket media coverage surrounding the women’s third World Cup title was still in full frenzy Tuesday when Clint Dempsey and company took on Honduras in Frisco, Texas.
In contrast to the unparalleled TV audience for the crushing 5-2 championship match against Japan — at close to 23 million, it was triple the number who watched the last final in 2011 and the highest viewing figure for any soccer game ever — the men’s contest was a decidedly low-key affair, with Dempsey’s double leading them to a narrow, but deserved, 2-1 win. On Friday, the U.S. team defeated Haiti 1-0.
The men will be hoping that they follow a similar path to the women in their competition: a slow but steady start, a pedestrian progress to the knock-out stage, and players whose performances peak when it matters. Anything less than a place in the final July 26 in Philadelphia would be rightly seen as a failure.
Although it is dangerous to underestimate anyone in international soccer, the U.S. should almost see the three first-stage matches as warmups to fine-tune for the harder battles ahead. Recent friendly successes against powerhouses Germany and Holland are great — but they are called “friendlies” for a reason. The U.S. had not played competitively since the defeat to Belgium in last year’s World Cup, now more than a year ago.
The Americans have won 13 straight opening games in this regional tournament, and even their quarterfinal opponent will probably be a weaker nation such as Canada or Cuba. It will be the last four before we get a true measure of progress under German coach Jürgen Klinsmann, with a likely duel against Costa Rica, the surprise package of the last World Cup.
The Gold Cup has a dozen nations from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, and it is important to win, because it doubles as entry to the Confederations Cup. That will be held in 2017 in Russia and features the champions from each continent in a dress rehearsal for the World Cup. The champions of the Gold Cup from 2013 and 2015 will play to decide who gets to go — but the USA is the reigning title holder and so could qualify automatically without the need for a playoff.
There is still a huge gulf between the sexes in soccer. The USA received $2 million for winning the World Cup; last year, the males from Germany were rewarded with $35 million the men’s title. But this week, the onus switched to the men to give the country’s soccer fans the same excitement and entertainment provided over the past month by the supposedly “weaker” sex. Over to you, boys.