Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Gold Cup Quarterfinals - July 18, 2015

The Gold Cup is CONCACAF’s biennial tournament for North America. Unlike the Euro and Copa America, the Gold Cup is not at all competitive, with the US and Mexico combining to claim 11 of 12 previous titles (Canada won the other in 2000). Even the Women’s World Cup is more unpredictable than this, with four champs in seven tourneys. But the lack of competition didn’t stop me from paying a visit to Baltimore to watch the first two quarterfinal matches. 

When the schedule was announced, it was pretty clear that the US would win Group A and play their quarterfinal here. I thought that Canada would finish third in Group B and provide the opposition, but they managed nary a goal in their three matches and gave up a stoppage time marker to Jamaica to finish in last place with 2 points, earning instant elimination. Instead it was surprising Cuba, finishing third in Group C, that faced the Americans while Haiti took on Jamaica in the later game.

M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, was the venue. Before a Ravens home game, the walkway to the main gate (Ravenswalk) is lined with a sponsor booths and fans; on this occasion there were far fewer of both. The highlight was the actual Gold Cup on display.

With capacity here nearly 80,000, it was safe to bet that demand here would not exceed supply. I went to the box office to find out that the cheapest ticket was $30 (while the good seats were a ridiculous $150). I was pretty sure I could get in for less than that and found a scalper who was amenable to my initial offer of $20. And even then, I probably overpaid.  I had last visited here on my NFL trip and really enjoyed it, and found nothing to complain about today, including some nice views of the downtown skyline and Camden Yards.

It was baking on this day, with the heat index over 100, so the smart thing to do was to wait out the start in the concourse. Most other fans did the same as you can see below.

I was surprised to see the designated driver program in effect, so I signed up for my free small soda. When I presented the voucher to the cashier, she wasn’t sure what to do and gave me a large soda. The supervisor saw this and chastised her for giving me that extra 200 millilitres of pop. So the cashier got a small cup and filled it from the large cup, pouring out the remainder. I found that highly amusing, better to waste the soda than to have someone get more than he deserved!

I went to my seat about 15 minutes before kickoff, only to find it directly facing the sun. Thankfully the upper deck was empty and I moved over to midfield, sitting in the top row where the camera box blocked the sun. I had the space to myself for a while but eventually a number of other fans, no doubt tired of cooking in their seats, made their way up to the top. The view from here was quite good. When the players came out, they briefly formed a heart shape, but there was no love to be found on this day. Unless you count Cuba's score.

Cuba had lost four players to defection, always a risk when their athletic teams visit a foreign country. This simply wasn't going to be a close game, and it didn’t take long for the US to prove that as Clint Dempsey headed home in the fourth minute. Ten minutes after that and Gyasi Zardes one-timed a Fabian Johnson pass into the net (below) and the rout was on.

The US added two more in the half to great fanfare, and two in the second half, both from Dempsey (below), who netted his first hat trick for the national team.

I was surprised that the fans were somewhat classless, booing the ref whenever a call went against the US and cheering like crazy even on the fourth goal. Like it mattered. This game was never in doubt but US soccer fans seem to think that this is a level playing field. Much like the WWC, the US should contend for the Gold Cup every single time due to the advantages they have in population and infrastructure. Only Mexico provides any competition, and even that has been lacking lately. US soccer fans should act a bit more mature, like they’ve been there before and save the whining for the World Cup, when they are actually shafted by horrible officiating every four years.

Stepping down from my soapbox, the second game was more interesting. I had moved down to the lower level for this one, and as the sun was setting, it became quite comfortable. Jamaica was heavily favoured but Haiti attacked early, only to have a fluke goal against when a bad angled shot from Giles Barnes (below) went through the keeper’s legs and into the net.

There were many fans from both countries surrounding me and the picture below summarizes the moment. A happy Jamaican dancing in the aisles as a despondent Haitian looks away.

Haiti continued to attack (as below) throughout the half but missed chance after chance. The second half wasn't much different from what I heard (I left at halftime to meet a friend) and in the end, that one early mistake cost Haiti the game as Jamaica held on for the 1-0 win. They go on to face the US in the semi-finals in Atlanta on Wednesday, with the other semi-final featuring Mexico and Panama.

I'm glad I checked off the Gold Cup, my first actual confederation tournament (qualifiers don't count), but I don't think I will be back in 2017. Like the Asian Cup, there isn't much competition below the top couple of teams, and with all the sports going on, you can always find something more compelling.

Update: Well, I guess I jinxed the US as they lost to Jamaica 2-1. So maybe there is some competition, just not until the semifinals. 



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