Gold Cup 2011: When the Going Gets Tough, the U.S. Gets Soft

Jeff KayerCorrespondent IJune 26, 2011

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 25:   Landon Donovan #10 of the United States waits for the award ceremony after the game with Mexico during the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Championship at the Rose Bowl on June 25, 2011 in Pasadena, California. Mexico won 4-2.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Were people really expecting a different result?

Did fans honestly believe that this time would be any different?

The 2011 Gold Cup is done, and to the shock of only a handful, the U.S. men's soccer team were up to their usual antics, not showing up in the big match as they lost to their hated rivals Mexico 4-2, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

One could call this an alarming trend; however, this is not a new issue for the U.S. soccer team.  Though there have been several moments of success, the U.S. has consistently faltered for years on the biggest stage.  It was one thing when the U.S. bottomed out at the 1998 World Cup when the game of soccer was hardly watched by an American audience.

However, today, with more people wanting to find a reason to get interested in a game that for generations has been labeled as completely European, it's becoming much more damaging to see the U.S. collapse time and again. 

There was a time last night where it looked like this would be a totally different outcome.  Though they had lost in embarrassing fashion to Panama less than two weeks ago, the U.S. was outplaying their Mexican rivals, taking a 2-0 lead thanks to goals by Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan.  But just as American fans began to believe the Yanks could pull it out, the Mexican squad scored twice in the last 15 minutes to tie it up.

It took only four minutes in the second half for Pablo Barrera to score his second goal of the game to put the Mexicans in front for the first time.  A highlight reel goal by Giovani Dos Santos finished off the 4-2 disaster for the Americans.

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 25: Giovani Dos Santos #10 of  Mexico gets the ball away from goal keeper Tim Howard #1 of the United States to set up his goal during the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Championship at the Rose Bowl on June 25, 2011 in Pasadena, California. Mexic
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Instead of looking forward to the 2013 Confederation Cup, which the winning team in this tournament got an invitation to, people are waking up to the news of Tim Howard yelling at CONCACAF because the postgame ceremony was in Spanish.  

Here's some advice to you, Tim.  If you don't like it, then don't look like a flailing fish on the field while surrendering the fourth goal.  Help your team win the game and you don't have to worry about it.  It's one thing to lose with some dignity, but what Howard did was just put the icing on the cake for the dismal American showing.

There are those that will say this loss is a step in the maturation process of a team in transition.  It is true that the team is featuring younger talent, most notably striker Juan Agudelo.  However it's time people stop making excuses for this team and demand results from a squad that is routinely ranked in the top 20 in the world.

In 2009, the U.S. loss to Brazil was due to the fact they played such a great team.  In the 2006 World Cup, the American failure was due to being in the "Group Of Death."  Even in last year's World Cup, the U.S. lost to Ghana because it was played on the opponent's home soil (forget the fact that the country of Ghana is over 6,500 miles from South Africa).

Now, we're going to give the U.S. team the excuse that this is all a great building block for our youth?  Please stop now you spin machine experts, you're making me sick!

The sad thing about all of this is despite the U.S. team's nature to blow it on the biggest stages, there are those in America starting to get more interested in soccer.  You can see it just by how it's covered as the Gold Cup loss was the lead story on ESPN. 

Think about that for a moment.  A tournament that for years has received little to no coverage by the media is the biggest story today.  Even the Women's World Cup is getting significant coverage by the worldwide leader in sports. 

There are sports fans looking for a reason to care about the U.S. Men's team.  A big win here or there could create a whole new legion of soccer fans in this country.  When the U.S. beat Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup, it got a lot of people talking.  But time and again, when the media focuses on an American soccer game, the U.S. finds a way to lose.

Even the 2010 World Cup was a disappointment despite the result.  They escaped with a tie against England thanks to a goalie gaffe, they barely struck a draw with Slovenia and a miracle finish against Algeria in extra time propelled the U.S. to the Round of 16.

There they played against a Ghana team that was missing some of its best players.  The Americans had a very realistic shot to make a deep run as the winner of their game would play either Uruguay or South Korea.  With a once-in-a-generation chance to avoid a soccer powerhouse in the first two knockout rounds, the Americans were favored by many to get to their first semifinal since 1930.

With millions of Americans watching from home, they saw the Americans lose 2-1 in overtime.

By now, it's well identified how the U.S. has failed on the big stage.  The question is what can they do moving forward to take the next big leap and become a true contender? 

The first thing is to replace coach Bob Bradley as soon as possible.  Bradley may well go down as one of the more successful coaches in U.S. history, but the team needs a new fresh leader.  One way or another, his teams do not play a consistent 90 minutes of soccer, which is why the team is now ranked 22nd in the world and not in the top 10.

The U.S. has shown flashes of brilliance in recent years that has people believing they could play against some of the big boys in the soccer world.  However, for every 22 minutes of greatness seen in their game against Mexico, you then get 68 minutes of maddening frustration.

Perhaps the U.S. team can start to turn it around as we already get ready for 2014 World Cup qualifying.  Maybe this team can start to close out opponents, or not give up an early goal.  However, this team proved last night they're still not ready to succeed on the big stage.

Only when this team can beat a powerhouse when the lights are brightest will people consider the American soccer program a tough one.  Until then, good, top-tier opponents will look forward to playing a team that shies away from their potential greatness while fans back home continue to wait for the American squad to flourish.