By whatever metric you want to use - television ratings are the best barometer - soccer in the United States has never been more popular than it is right now. More specifically, coming off of the U.S. women’s World Cup title clinching 5-2 victory over Japan last Sunday in Canada (which was the most watched soccer match ever in the States), the sport is making a serious push with fans of all ages particularly when it comes to the national teams. Gillette Stadium has always been one of the favorite venues of the U.S. men and it should be packed again on Friday night (8:30, Fox Sports 1) as they face Haiti in the group stage of the 2015 Gold Cup. The match is preceded by the other two teams in Group A: Honduras vs. Panama (6, Fox Sports 1).
Founded in 1991, the Gold Cup is a summer tournament every two years that brings together the 12 CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) countries. Not surprisingly, Mexico (6 titles) and the U.S. (5 titles) have dominated the competition. Canada way back in 2000 is the only other squad to win the crown. As the reigning champion (they beat Panama 1-0 in last summer’s final), another U.S. title in a few weeks time would mean that they clinch a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia-a more prestigious tournament pitting regional champions against each other.
On Tuesday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX, Haiti tied Panama 1-1 while the U.S. survived a shaky outing to beat Honduras 2-1 thanks to a pair of goals by star striker Clint Dempsey. American head coach Jurgen Klinsmann noted after the opener that it won’t be easy despite the past history. “It was a very tight game which is what we expected. It was a very good Honduras side that knows how to play, knows how to create chances and knows how to create problems. Still, we came out with three points and that’s a very good start to the Gold Cup. There were many positives to take from this.”
Other than irreplaceable goalkeeper Tim Howard who is taking a self-imposed sabbatical from his national team duties, local fans will see most of the top players that our country has to offer: Dempsey, striker Jozy Altidore, midfielder Michael Bradley, defenders Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson along with midfielder DeAndre Yedlin who were all in the starting 11 against Honduras. Former BC standout midfielder Alejandro Bedoya didn’t appear on Tuesday but Friday is certainly a possibility.
The U.S. takes on Panama on Monday (8:30, Fox Sports 1) at Sporting Park in Kansas City with the quarterfinals taking place next weekend in Baltimore and New York. The semifinals are on July 22 at the Georgia Dome with the final taking place on July 26 in Philadelphia.