America’s Other Team Takes Center Stage

dempsWhen one international tournament comes to a close, another one opens.  Just two days after the U.S Women’s National Team emerged victorious in the Women’s World Cup, bringing glory and a publicity blitz to the nation, the U.S. Men’s National Team started its first competitive campaign since their 2014 World Cup exit with a 2-1 victory over Honduras in front of a sellout crowd in Dallas’s Toyota Stadium.  The game was far from pretty, and the performance by the US Men was far from spectacular, but the result was favorable considering the circumstances. The start of the Gold Cup beckons the question, when will we see a U.S. Men’s National team as dominant as our Women’s Team?

The U.S. Women’s Team held a ceremony on Monday to launch new jerseys with 3 stars over the U.S. crest, representing 3 World Cup victories, an incredible feat considering there have only been 7 Women’s World Cups. The Men’s Team has exactly zero stars over its crest, representing a constant struggle to overthrow the world powers of soccer since the first World Cup in 1930. The quest for this dominance begins with dominance in the region, which is symbolically obtained through the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

“Far from pretty” are almost the perfect words to describe the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  A 12 team tournament held every two years, the Gold Cup places the best national teams in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean against each other in a regional version of the World Cup.  In the 12 years that the tournament has taken place, Mexico has won the trophy 6 times, the USA has won it 5, and Canada once, showing the lack of parity in the region.  Canada was even considered a Cinderella story during its cup run, showing how the region has two superpowers in the U.S. and Mexico.  In case you’re curious, in the women’s version of the tournament, the U.S. has won 7 out of the 9 competitions. (The team didn’t even compete in 1 of the 2 years that it didn’t win because it was an automatic entrant into the World Cup.)  While the U.S. almost always draws sellout crowds in its games, and the Mexican team’s following is respectably large, the level of support tends to drop drastically with the remaining 10 teams.

The U.S. has been the primary host of the tournament every time since the Gold Cup’s inception, with Mexico sharing duties twice, and Canada sharing duties this year.  This arrangement could reasonably change considering the rising viability of Canada’s stadium and hospitality infrastructure as witnessed by this year’s Women’s World Cup, as well as the already viable infrastructure of Mexico. For the time being, this has been a marketing touch of gold for the U.S as fans around the country have increasingly grown in numbers to see the team thanks to the foundation of supporters groups like the American Outlaws and improved performances at recent World Cups with more recognizable stars like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and Jermaine Jones.  Howard and Jones will both be missing from this tournament, but attendance is not expected to take a hit, which shows the strength of the support.

While the regional tournaments held in South America and Europe are huge global draws that typically garner international marketing campaigns with easily advertised stars such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi or Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, the CONCACAF region exhibits a level of play that still leaves a lot to be desired.

As a result, FOX, the TV provider of the Gold Cup, can expect fairly little excitement surrounding the tournament compared to the Women’s World Cup games.  The lack of faith in the ratings for the Gold Cup can be seen in the programming schedule where FOX plans to air only one game on network television, with all other games broadcasted on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2.  The one network television match is not even the final. It’s a quarterfinal match that the U.S. has the highest chance of appearing in given the inconsistent play of the other teams in its group.  As a side note, 20,000 tickets have already been sold for this quarterfinal game in Baltimore with the expectation that the U.S. will win its group.  The disappointment if the team finishes lower than expected can be huge.  Images like the one below of tonight’s group match between Costa Rica and Jamaica unfortunately represent the amount of interest in the other teams playing in the tournament.

Courtesy of @EmptySeatsGalore  on Twitter.
Courtesy of @EmptySeatsGalore on Twitter.

The tournament started in 1991, the same year as the first Women’s World Cup, leading to a two part show for soccer fans to expect every four years.  The last Gold Cup held in 2013 gave reason to hope that its popularity among Americans is growing. The final match between the USA and Panama drew a 1.7 rating, which according to SB Nation, is typically higher than regular season hockey or college basketball.  Since this is the first Gold Cup to come off the heels of a U.S. Women’s National Team victory in the Women’s World Cup, FOX executives are definitely hoping that a boost in patriotism will carry over into a boost in Gold Cup TV viewers.


USA vs. Honduras: Score, Grades and Reaction for 2015 Gold Cup


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