Dear fans of the USMNT. You have been lied to. I’m sorry. I have to apologize because it wasn’t just the soccer media who lied to you, I did it too. I got sucked in and bought into the narrative that qualifying for the 2017 Confederations Cup was crucially important. The truth is, it’s not.
Now before you grab your pitchforks and torches please let me explain.
At the start of the year, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann stated that it was imperative to qualify for the Confederations Cup. That means if the U.S. wins the CONCACAF Cup against Mexico on Saturday they have achieved that goal and you can forget about the debacle that was the 2015 Gold Cup. If the U.S. doesn’t win on Saturday they will have failed to achieve that goal. That would be a problem and that problem would be a far greater problem then not actually qualifying for the Confederations Cup.
Let’s start out by calling the Confederations Cup what it is, a Mickey Mouse tournament. American soccer fans have glorified this tournament to the point that they consider it a must to qualify for it every four years. I find this hilarious because I’d bet that around 95 percent of American soccer fans had never heard of the Confederations Cup until the United States made the final in the 2009 tournament against Brazil. I’d be willing to bet most people weren’t paying attention when the United States was getting dismantled by American-born Giuseppe Rossi and the Italians in the group stages.
The truth is that outside of the United States and Mexico, no one else in the world really cares about this tournament. Of all the different Confederation’s tournaments, the Gold Cup is the only one where the prize of winning is qualifying for the Confederations Cup instead of the prize being, you know actually winning.
Next summer European teams won’t be going to France to try to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup, they’ll be going to France to try to win the European Championship. Last summer Chile didn’t celebrate qualifying for the Confederations Cup, they celebrated beating the Brazil’s and Argentina’s of CONMEBOL and winning the Copa America. I guess that’s what happens when you contest a Gold Cup every two years and only three (I see you Canada) different teams have ever won it. You need to provide a challenge.
Now is where all the people who think I’m crazy are going to point out how vital is for the U.S. to get to go to Russia one year before the World Cup, where they would get a taste of the facilities and play some of the best teams in the world. I can’t argue with the second point, playing some of the best teams in the world, even in what can best be described as “competitive friendlies,” is always a benefit, but I can say that you are still overrating the trip.
The United States did not qualify for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and therefore missed a chance to get a taste of Brazil prior to the 2014 World Cup. Right? Well not exactly. Sure they didn’t play in the tournament, but U.S. Soccer still flew down to Brazil in 2013 to scout the country and pick a place for its base camp. Then in January 2014 the U.S. held their annual January camp in Brazil, giving the team a chance to acclimate to Brazil.
As for how not getting a chance to face top competition over the summer affected the U.S.’s performance in Brazil 2014? Well the team made it just as far as they did in 2010, coming out of a far more difficult group then they did in South Africa, and were within one Wondolowski miss of going to the quarterfinal.
It’s time to face the cold hard truth. As Americans we love the Confederations Cup because in 2009 every last thing miraculously went the U.S.’s way and the United States had a 2-0 lead at halftime of the final. We love it because Confederations Cup is the U.S.’s only realistic chance at winning an international tournament that doesn’t begin with the word CONCACAF. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t care and isn’t giving 100 percent we could still say we went toe-to-toe with the World’s best and came out on top.
At the end of the day though, we need to stop glorifying this tournament and turning it into something it’s not. If the U.S. fails to qualify it’s a disappointment that we missed out on an international tournament and more competitive matches; but it’s hardly a sign that U.S. Soccer is in peril and in need of wholesale changes.