If there’s one thing that we learned this summer it’s that international summer soccer tournaments are amazing. Sure we already knew that thanks to the World Cup, but with the Euro’s and Copa America going full throttle for most of the month of June it just served as a nice reminder.
Of course there is also such thing as too much of a good thing, and that’s where the good folks at CONCACAF come in.
While the world is blessed with the World Cup once every four years we also get regional tournaments somewhere in between. The Copa America, for South America, typically takes place the year after the World Cup. The European Championships take place two years later, and then African Cup of Nations takes place in January.
Pretty simple, every confederation hosts one regional championship over the course of the four year World Cup cycle, with the winner representing their confederation at the Confederations Cup. Except then there’s CONCACAF who for some reason have decided to stage two of their regional tournaments, the Gold Cup, during each four year cycle.
CONCACAF stages a Gold Cup the year after the World Cup and then another the year before the next World Cup. The one a year after the World Cup is usually a great tournament with every team going all out to try to win. The one two years later though, no so much.
The second Gold Cup comes at a terrible time. For starters, it runs pretty much concurrently with the FIFA Confederations Cup, which means one team, usually Mexico or the United States but usually Mexico, can’t even bring their full squad to the tournament. For the rest of the teams in CONCACAF, the tournament takes place right in the middle of the final hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying, meaning those teams don’t want to burn out their top players either.
This results in many teams just mailing in the tournament by bringing a mixture of fringe players and youngsters. The result of this, shockingly, means that fans don’t really care about this Gold Cup.
CONCACAF tried to fix this prior to the 2013 version of the tournament by saying the winner would play in a playoff with the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup for the right to represent CONCACAF in the 2017 Confederations Cup. That didn’t help as teams still left many of their good players at home.
It’s clear that teams will never take the second Gold Cup seriously but also that CONCACAF still wants to hold it every two years because money, so what can they do to make people care?
They should make it a U23 or a U21 tournament.
Turning the second Gold Cup into a premier youth tournament immediately makes it more interesting. With the current setup managers are already bringing “B squads” the tournament. In 2013 Jurgen Klinsmann brought players such as Brek Shea, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, Michael Parkhurst, and Corey Ashe to the tournament. Those are players who for the most part had pasts with the USMNT, but no future. I didn’t care to see any of them playing for the US and as a result I didn’t watch much of the tournament. But if you made it a major youth tournament that would feature players such as Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Kellyn Acosta, Jordan Morris, and Emerson Hyndmann? I’m in!
This would help not only the United States, but all of CONCACAF as it would give their youth teams a big time stage to perform at. One of the reasons CONCACAF lags behind Europe in terms of player development is due to the lack of big time youth tournaments. Europe holds the U21 European Championships every two years, which has bread some of the best players in football, whereas CONCACAF really only has the Olympic qualifiers as their only major youth tournament.
The tournament would have benefits for CONCACAF. Sure it won’t attract the massive crowds that the main Gold Cup would attract, but the second Gold Cup never does. Instead this tournament could be held in the soccer specific MLS stadiums that are much smaller than the NFL stadiums CONCACAF prefers, but often look half empty.
In addition to that, the smaller expected crowds would open up the possibility of a different CONCACAF nation besides the US hosting the tournament. That would be a tremendous opportunity to help grow the game in other CONCACAF countries.
If CONCACAF wants to prove that their serious about developing soccer in their region and not just making as much money as possible then converting the second Gold Cup into a premier youth tournament isn’t just a logical move, it’s a no brainer.