In 2015 US Soccer and CONCACAF Need to Push the Gold Cup
Welp, I guess that’s it. Goodbye, United States Men’s National Team. Move along, folks, nothing to see here. No more crowds in Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Indianapolis filling stadiums to watch the boys in Brazil. New American Outlaw chapters just stop now that they’re official until we head to Moscow. People who have learned that soccer, American soccer in particular, is something more than a topic to write about showing our moral decay are now left in the soccer wilderness for another four years. Yup, it’s all over. Now soccer goes back in the corner until 2018, right? That’s what happens, huh? No more games, correct?
Hell no. No one puts soccer in a corner!
No one likes losing. It’s not fun to lose, but despite everything, most of us knew that this was not a tournament we were going to win regardless of all the believing. However, everyone loves a winner. Let’s look at all the crowds from places as big as Boston to as small as Jackson, MS. Some of these folks have and will always be soccer fans. Others just got caught up in the moment of watching a team representing the USA and will not watch another lick of soccer until 2018 – or possibly 2015 if they don’t mind watching the ladies play (which as I’ve found over the years many will).
So these new fans are supposed to just sit around and wait for 2018? They have no idea what to do in the meantime. The players they fell in love with for two weeks just stop existing once the USA is eliminated. Goodbye, Mr. Jones. Adieux, Mr. Dempsey. Adios, Mr. Beasley.
When ’18 rolls around it’s possible that these new fans will not know anyone there, and nothing is scarier than having to learn a team all over again. Sure there may be a fleeting memory Deandre Yedlin’s speed, or John Brook’s heroics, or Julian Green’s wonder-goal, but this is only if those players are still around and amongst the 23 best when we hopefully travel to Russia.
Yes, those of us who follow the team heartily and heavily will be at bars, pubs, restaurants, or at home on First Row, for every friendly in the upcoming months. But aren’t we trying to grow this thing? Could interest have been piqued enough to get casuals to watch a lot of the guys they know, plus a few guys play a friendly that basically equates to a spring training game against Croatia is September? Probably not.
What do we do? How does US Soccer keep the train rolling? How does CONCACAF – who still have a team other than their traditionally dominant two – tap into the new money-base of the US? Yes the money-base of the United States has always been there for soccer, but there is now a whole new crowd to exploit. If you follow US Soccer closer than every four years, you probably know where I’m going with this.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup is the money maker for CONCACAF and most CONCACAF Nations, but it has always been shoddily run. Let’s be honest, it is not the Euros, it is not Copá America, it is not even the African Cup of Nations, but it already exists every two years and is always hosted in the United States of America. More likely than not, many of the players from this current World Cup roster will be on that team. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, and Clint Dempsey will probably be there. Scarily the 2015 Gold Cup could be the send off series for Tim Howard. So many of our old friends will be there. This will give Americans a chance to see those old familiar faces in a tournament that counts.
But it’s not just the old faces. After all, Americans, are sports hipsters by choice. They want to claim they knew of a player before he blew up. This is why mock drafts for the NBA and NFL are so popular. The 2015 Gold Cup will also serve this fan base. The new class of players will begin to find their way onto the roster. Perhaps a Luis Gil, or a Joe Gyau, or a Joe Corona, or a Will Trapp, or – fingers crossed – a Gedion Zelalem, or a Darlington Nagbe, or a Diego Fagundez. Seeing a new wave of – arguably – better and more technical USMNT players blending with the best of the team that was just knocked out of the World Cup in hopes of building a new breed is appealing. Having them do it in a tournament that they are most likely going to be favored to win is even better.
CONCACAF and the USSF need to sell this Gold Cup, in the aftermath of never-before-seen support for the national team in Brazil, not only on the 16 save performance of Tim Howard, but on the fact that this is a very winnable tournament for the USA. Imagine the painted faces of fans and the Teddy Goalsevelts screaming “I Believe” in ecstasy in a tournament that the US can, should, and probably will win. That’s a story the Fox Company, who owns not just the Gold Cup rights but the next two World Cups, would love to run with.
Still, the question will remain to several of the US Soccer noobs: What the hell is a Gold Cup? Everyone know of the World Cup. It’s unavoidable. And while the aforementioned Euros and Copá America may not be household names, chances are people have a vague idea of their existence. The Gold Cup does not have the household ring in America as any of the aforesaid tournaments, but maybe it should.
The World Cup is going and continues to set television ratings for soccer programing in the United States. American Outlaw chapters that have popped up are making bars country-wide grin. If CONCACAF and the newly(ish) established Fox Sports 1 (who hold the Gold Cup’s television rights) can push the Gold Cup as ESPN has with the World Cup there is a chance that we can see the growth of that tournament.
It’s great that Mexico and the United States are genenrally the two finalists, but things are changing in CONCACAF. Costa Rica is suddenly a team to reckon with. The 2013 Gold Cup had Panama as the runner-up. Additionally, Honduras, who couldn’t quite cut it at this World Cup, is continually evolving into a team that may be able to compete in at least that tournament.
Fox Sports 1, if they are smart, will be able to advertise the Gold Cup off the back of the World Cup. Take a second to imagine just what Fox Sports 1 could do if it so chose. Fox could run with the strength of what ESPN did for the World Cup for it’s Gold Cup coverage and then roll that Gold Cup coverage into the next two World Cup further putting the USMNT stamp on soccer at least regionally. They will be able to go with the storyline of the new breed of US talent. They will be able to let casuals know that if the USA wins the tournament they will be tied with Mexico for the most overall titles in that competition – and nothing gets Americans in Red States more excited than being better than Mexico.
This is the opportunity. Yes, the Gold Cup title has only been split between Mexico and the US (save for one fluke Canadian win in 2000). If people are just getting into the US Soccer, or soccer in general, now is the chance for CONCACAF to do the same with the Gold Cup. It’s time to stop thinking in four-year cycles and push the Gold Cup like it matters. CONCACAF needs to do some serious promotion. If they want to have the power and influence of UEFA and CONMEBOL – and of course they do because it’ll allow for a more money laden brand of corruption – they need to pretend the Gold Cup already is just as important as Copá America and the Euros. Many of the new fans who have just gotten into soccer in the last month or so probably won’t know any better, and people who have been into it for a bit now already think the Gold Cup is more important than it really is.
The United States Soccer Federation needs to also push this tournament like it matters. This is their bi-annual money maker. American Outlaws already make this tournament big, but now it’s time for the USSF to pretend that this is their Euros. Frankly, it already is. USSF can take this moment and momentum to build their product. People care, give them a reason to care by showing them a winner. This is no longer about pretending the Gold Cup matters, because with the improvements of Honduras, Panama, and specifically Costa Rica, it already does.