In the same month that started off with a jubilant 5-2 win over Japan for a World Cup title by the U.S. Women’s National Team, the U.S. Men’s National Team suffered one of their worst performances in their history in the CONCACAF Gold Cup to finish the month.
The U.S. men, who were upset by Jamaica 2-1 in the Gold Cup semifinals last Wednesday, ended the week with a brutal 1-1(3-2) loss to Panama in penalty kicks Saturday to finish fourth in the tournament.
It was the worst Gold Cup finish from the men’s team since losing to Colombia, an invited guest, during a shootout in the 2000 quarterfinals.
“Any time you don't win it's a setback of sorts,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. “We're not going to win every game, so that means every team in the world has a lot of setbacks by that definition.”
But it’s hard to look at this as strictly a setback for the men. They were widely viewed as the clear favorites to win the Gold Cup entering the tournament. Everything seemed to be trending upwards since a round of 16 finish in the 2014 World Cup, but you have to wonder where things go from here.
The U.S. will face Mexico in a playoff match on October 9th with the winner earning a bid to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Mexico won the Gold Cup Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Jamaica. This doesn’t bode well for the American’s, who will have a ton of work to do in the next three months.
“This team will grow,” U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “This team will get better. The youngsters will learn from their mistakes on the field.”
But will it grow? If this team is seemingly so talented and well coached, how is it so far behind the women’s team at the moment?
In 16 years, the women’s team has won two World Cup titles, five Olympic gold medals and four Gold Cup titles. In that same timespan, the men have advanced to the quarterfinals of a World Cup just once while bringing in four Gold Cup titles of their own. Is that enough?
The men’s team isn’t getting any younger. With Landon Donovan retiring, Tim Howard, hero of the 2014 World Cup, on the brink, leading goal scorer Clint Dempsey nearing his mid-30s and midfielder Michael Bradley already appearing in 105 international matches at the age of 27 – a severe learning curve seems to be heading towards the men’s team if any or all of them prove to be ineffective by the time of the 2018 World Cup.
Bob Bradley was fired as the U.S. manager after making it to the round of 16 in 2010 because of a 4-2 loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final. If Bradley was fired after taking his team to the final, what does that say about Klinsmann’s future after finishing fourth?
There certainly are a lot more questions than answers for the men’s team. In the interim, Americans can enjoy the success of the women’s team and appreciate just how dominant they’ve become. The men will have some catching up to do.