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Should U.S. fans care about the Gold Cup? It’s debatable

130708125419-gold-cup-mexico-single-image-cutBy Grant Wahl, From Sports Illustrated

ORTLAND, Ore. — There’s a little angel standing on one of my shoulders, and a little devil standing on the other, and they’re arguing over, of all things, the United States in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The U.S. opens the biennial regional championship on Tuesday here against Belize (11 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer, Unimas), and everyone in Soccer City USA has an opinion on fútbol, including the little devils and little angels.

So I recorded their debate over whether U.S. fans should care about this Gold Cup and stayed out of their way. This is what they said:

DEVIL (taking long swig of Widmer beer): Why are you acting like this tournament matters for the U.S.? Almost all the A-squad players are gone and fishing on a lake (Clint Dempsey) or learning an eighth language (Michael Bradley) on their well-deserved break after the games that mattered in World Cup qualifying last month. These are B-teams for the U.S. and Mexico and even Costa Rica and Honduras. If this was the 2011 Gold Cup and the best players were here, I’d be all over that. But this is a poor man’s off-year Gold Cup.

ANGEL (nibbling on a Voodoo donut): This Gold Cup may not be perfect, but there are plenty of reasons for U.S. fans to care. For starters, look at the players. Landon Donovan is back! Talk about intriguing storylines: The U.S.’s all-time leading scorer stepped away from soccer for three months earlier this year, and now he’s having to earn his way back onto the A-squad by playing here. And there are no guarantees he’ll make it back. Jurgen Klinsmann has the U.S. rolling in World Cup qualifying, so Donovan has to show without a doubt that he’s necessary. And he sure looks motivated, having scored twice in a friendly against Guatemala last Friday.

DEVIL: Donovan would get better competition if he’d stayed with the L.A. Galaxy in MLS. Seriously, look at the U.S.’s first two opponents. Belize? Cuba? These guys make Tahiti look like Spain.

ANGEL: Hey, don’t underestimate the underdogs. Martinique beat Canada on Sunday, and Mexico lost to Panama. The little guys can be great stories. Martinique had a 38-year-old, Fabrice Reuperne, score a golazo to beat Canada on the last play of the game. That was awesome.

DEVIL: But think about it: The U.S. could get hammered by Belize and Cuba, and Klinsmann would still keep his job. Klinsi could stumble around the field drunk like Shooter in Hoosiers, and he’d still stay in charge. Where’s the pressure in that?

ANGEL: Fine, but Mexico coach Chepo de la Torre is in real danger of losing his job. El Tri has won one game out of six in the Hexagonal, and he had to face some brutal questions from the Mexican media after Sunday’s loss. (Sample: “Is the coaching position too big for you?” Answer: “No.”) We have real comedy gold potential for a repeat of the press conference at Euro 2012, when the Ukraine coach got so angry with a question that he asked the journalist to step outside. Chepo will probably get the heave if Mexico doesn’t win this Gold Cup. Now that’s pressure!

DEVIL: Let’s be honest, though: The Gold Cup should take place once every four years, not every other year. This is just a money grab by CONCACAF.

ANGEL: But that money is important to grow the game in the Caribbean and Central America, especially now that CONCACAF’s new leadership might actually put the money toward the sport instead of trousering it in offshore bank accounts like the previous leaders. (Don’t you love the verb trouser? I do.) If CONCACAF is going to get more competitive, you need to have this tournament every two years. What’s more, they’ve made the stakes higher for this Gold Cup by allowing the winner to compete in a playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner for the region’s spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup. So there’s definitely something to play for here.

DEVIL: Well, that Gold Cup championship trophy is a disaster. It looks like a medieval torture device.

ANGEL: Maybe so, but it’s a trophy this U.S. team wants to win. The Americans haven’t won a Gold Cup since 2007, and archrival Mexico has won the last two. The U.S. players sound like they really mean it when they say this trophy is important to them. And Donovan isn’t the only U.S. player who’s compelling. There’s Stuart Holden, whose comeback from injuries is a great story. Several U.S. players are trying to get spots back on the A-squad (Oguchi Onyewu, Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, José Torres), and promising youngsters are trying to make their mark (Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Mix Diskerud, Jack McInerney). There’s a long history of U.S. players who’ve used the Gold Cup as a springboard to making the World Cup team. That’s definitely worth watching.

DEVIL: Will my devilish friend, the FIFA president Sepp Blatter, be coming to the Gold Cup final this year in Chicago?

ANGEL: It’s not currently on his schedule, but there’s always the possibility. And the TV coverage of the tournament will be better than ever. Fox Soccer and big Fox are showing all the games live. We soccer fans have always wanted the U.S. sports media to take soccer seriously, and now it’s happening.

DEVIL: Did Fox hire that annoying bald dude from Sports Illustrated to be on the ground with the U.S. team the whole time?

ANGEL: They did. That’s the one big drawback. I may be an angel, but I can’t stand that guy.

PHOTO: Mexico celebrates after defeating the U.S. in the 2011 Gold Cup final.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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