2011 Gold Cup: Location Might Be as Difficult as the Opposition for U.S.

Ben TrianaFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2011

TAMPA - FEBRUARY 24: Fans of the U. S. Men's Soccer Team cheer a 2 - 1 win in the rain against El Salvador February 24, 2010 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The U.S. has been grouped with Canada, Panama and Guadeloupe for the 2011 Gold Cup.

With the United States seemingly strong favorites to advance beyond the group stage, the organizers look as if they have scheduled the games in specific cities in the hopes that it might generate some much needed hostility for the host nation.

The U.S. will play Canada in Detroit, Panama in Tampa, and at the most stars and stripes friendly environment, Guadeloupe in Kansas City.

On paper, most consider the Gold Cup an underwhelming tournament with a vast chasm between the favorites and the rest, so any decisions that can create drama and add viewers are welcome.

If a venue can raise the stakes, then by all means, select it.

Add to the scenario a prestigious 2013 Confederations Cup berth (the tournament where the winner of each FIFA Confederation winner, the last World Cup winner and the host nation play), the constant struggle the U.S. team has in motivating itself for group matches against sub-par CONCACAF teams, and there may be something to play for in this tournament.

The storyline is also intriguing as the U.S. is in transition.

The team will need to replace an aging back line and continue its search for that elusive star forward.

With one less friendly (the Egypt international being canceled), there are only two matches left to decide on a competitive squad that can handle the early matches and then prepare for difficult later rounds against more talented opponents (like Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and even the mercurial Jamaica).

Finally, many of the CONCACAF underdogs play their best matches against their regional heavy weights, especially the United States (a win or draw resonates far beyond the sporting world), and especially in a country where the away team generates fan support from large immigrant populations.

Upsets, difficult advancement, and new heroes (Benny Feilhaber anyone?), will all emerge, so adding one little detail like that a slightly more hostile or sympathetic crowd makes all the difference.

Perhaps this is why the organizers chose Kansas City as the final location for the U.S.—if it comes down to the last game, Columbus is the only spot with more home support than the Midwestern city.

With the Confederations Cup on the line, and the invaluable experience that accompanies it, this tournament is the most important event the national team will enjoy for the foreseeable future.

What seems like such a small decision (Detroit instead of Columbus or Seattle), could be integral.

For example, if the U.S. hadn't come from behind against Egypt, then led against Brazil at the last Confederations Cup, do they have the confidence and constitution to beat Algeria and advance from the group stage in the World Cup?

Without the Gold Cup, these questions can't even be asked.

Yes, the CONCACAF opposition may be a step below Europe and South America, but it doesn't mean the tournament doesn't matter. 

Like the MLS, the region is a stepping stone; they lead to better opportunities.

They benefits and consequences might appear immaterial, just as inconsequential as selected Detroit or Tampa. I

f the U.S. wants to build on its recent successes, however, then they need to take advantage of every opportunityespecially in a region with a huge divide between the have and have-nots.

On paper, the Gold Cup games may not seem to mean much (Panama 68, Canada 84, and Guadalupe isn't even ranked), but the opportunities it creates are, and so the cities and the supporters do as well.