Fields of Gold: Final Thoughts on the 2017 Gold Cup

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Editorial (August 21, 2017) – During halftime of the U.S. Men’s National team’s match against El Salvador in the 2017 Gold Cup, I took a moment to look out from the press box. Not at the field I’d been studying all night, but out past the goal posts where the Philadelphia Eagles would soon play, out to where I could just make out the silhouette of the City of Brotherly Love as the sun set behind it on that hot July evening.

Fields of Gold: Final Thoughts on the 2017 Gold Cup

And for some reason I found myself thinking about the tournament’s start at Red Bull Arena, only a few miles north of here, where I’d seen players I’d covered in MLS represent their homelands. Players like Rodney Wallace and Cyle Larin and Toussaint Ricketts and Jonathan Osorio and Boniek Garcia and Alberth Elis. And then I began to think about the cities to the west of here where the tournament would ultimately conclude. And then I began to think about this curious biannual exercise itself. I found myself quite enjoying even though other members of the press were telling me I was a fool to. Even though other soccer fans were ignoring it. Even though other Americans were oblivious to it. For me there was something here, something special and unique and useful.

So I spent a month listening to pundits and panderers, experts and eejits, masters and morons, to help me discern the value of this curious circus. In an effort to determine, well, was the 2017 Gold Cup even worth it?

And my decision? Yes, actually, it was. As are all the Gold Cups. And here’s why.

Because it creates an opportunity for under-appreciated players

And by “underappreciated” I don’t mean players like Dax McCarty and Sean Johnson – though it was great to get them back on the USMNT. I mean players from Curacao and Martinique and French Guiana for example. Soccer nations that usually get overlooked by the international soccer world. Nations that never make it out of the most preliminary of World Cup Qualifiers. Who don’t have whatever weird soccer algorithm necessary for the Yanks up north to throw them a damn revenue-generating friendly every decade or two.

And my interest in this isn’t about some misguided form of noblesse oblige. It’s about a belief that MLS could become the preferred option for players from these nations. Rather than toiling in the obscurity of European 3rd and 4th divisions, why not start migrating them through MLS, NASL, and the USL? Why not create a feeder system that benefits the leagues, the home countries and the players? And why not use strong, healthy regional tournaments – like the 2017 Gold Cup – to help make that a reality?

Because some players that we DO know can have breakout performances

We all knew Andre Blake was good. And those of us who have watched him play for the Philadelphia Union knew he was great. But good grief, what a tournament that gentleman put in. If there aren’t teams in Europe knocking on Earnie Stewart’s door now, it’s only because they’re afraid to get lost in Chester, PA.

And while we’re talking about the Jamaican National Team, can we take a moment for Kemar Lawrence? Sure, I’d watched him play in derby after derby, but there was nothing I saw in those matches that prepared me for this.

Heck, there was nothing I’d seen from Miguel Camargo in the little time he’d been able to grab for himself with NYCFC that indicated he’d almost singlehandedly drive Panama forward. Or that their tournament would basically be over the moment his was.

Or what about the Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies? He can’t seem to break into the Vancouver Whitecaps starting XI but he looked unstoppable in the 2017 Gold Cup. Three goals in four matches, winner of the tournament’s “Young Player” award – and he’s only 16 years old!

That’s three players right there who will not be going to Russia (four if Panama doesn’t get out of the Hexagonal). Players who most North American soccer fans – and scouts and managers – got to see in an entirely new light because of the 2017 Gold Cup. Players we all have new appreciation for, and wouldn’t had this tournament not happened.

Because even though at times it was a bit of a clown show, we can fix it

Look, the whole dumpster fire surrounding Florent Malouda was the kind of chaos that’s – maybe – cute and quaint in an abstract, rear-view mirror kind of way. But moving forward? Fix it. Should the Caribbean Cup be FIFA-sanctioned (which would have precluded Malouda from playing)? Or should he have been allowed to represent French Guiana even though he’d already represented France? Honestly, I don’t care which answer the overlords choose. What I want is for the matches to be decided on the pitch. And not by a committee at three o’clock in the morning days later.

CONCACAF can do that. Easy-peasy. And if they want to expand to more teams, they’d better.

Because it’s like a World Cup until we get a World Cup

America is still a nation of many nations, and as FIFA continues to deny us a World Cup until everyone reading this is old and grey, the Gold Cup may be the only opportunity to experience soccer’s celebration of that in the near future.

To experience the spectacle of expats and emigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada celebrating their nations with an almost reckless abandon. To experience it as I did, sitting in a Red Bull Arena that was bursting at the seams, with half the seats filled by Costa Rican-Americans and the other half by Honduran-Americans, every one of whom was living and dying on every pass, foul, run and save.

We got a taste of that in 1994. We may get another taste in 2026.

But in the meantime, we can feast on the Gold Cup.

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