Mexico celebrate after winning the Gold Cup in 2011.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is supposed to determine the regional champion of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. But it is held twice too often, interferes with World Cup qualifying, and requires a total revamp in order to be taken seriously.
And the 2013 installment, which began on Sunday with Martinique's 1-0 stunner over Canada at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (Martinique is not technically country, and as such this encounter won’t even be recognized as an official match as far as FIFA is concerned), will mostly feature a collection of B-squads assembled by national associations you get the feeling would rather be doing anything else with their summers.
After all, the Gold Cup only really matters every four years, before the confederation’s gruelling World Cup campaign has progressed to its second stage. But like most badly run organizations, CONCACAF is of the mind that “more is better” when, in fact, a “less is more” approach would serve to enhance the product.
What we have as a result is a biennial tournament that is next to meaningless in the pre-World Cup year; a fundraising exercise for a confederation known more for stuffed envelopes than competitive football.
All that said, there are still good teams and good players throughout the region, and in the Gold Cups staged in the post-World Cup year, they tend to produce some entertaining international competition.
As MLSSoccer.com reported in April, "the champions of the 2013 Gold Cup will qualify for a playoff match to decide which national team will represent the region in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. The champions of the 2015 Gold Cup will become the second team to qualify for the single-game playoff, scheduled to take place in the second half of that same year at a site to be determined."
So, a step in the right direction. Still, the tournament must go significantly further in its need of a major overhaul. In moving toward a more consistently eye-catching, credible event, CONCACAF would do well to look south for a bit of help. CONMEBOL’s Copa America, while a fascinating competition, also has its shortcomings.
For starters, it could certainly do with more lucrative sponsorships and a broader television audience. Then there is the format quandary caused by a 10-team organization that requires the invitation of two outside competitors to make a more palatable roster of 12.
Linking up with CONCACAF would solve both of these problems in one fell swoop. In the United States and Mexico, the region offers eager sponsors and hundreds of millions of potential viewers, and there are enough teams of quality to turn a combined tournament into a 16-team affair.
The benefits to CONCACAF would be even more obvious.
By piggy-backing on South America, it would be able to sell the idea of a credible competition. With only a handful of its members permitted into the combined tournament, it would be required to hold a qualification phase, which would only be a good thing.
Already the idea of such an event has taken root with a proposed CONCACAF-CONMEBOL competition (known as the Copa America Centenario, in recognition of CONMEBOL’s 100-year anniversary) set to take place in 2016.
Here’s hoping it kicks off a trend, because the alternative is the pointless affair about to barge into our summer over the next three weeks.