What does a third place game mean to you as a fan? Your team, whether a favorite or underdog, just came within a game of making it to the championship game and now have to play a final game knowing a win here won’t be as satisfying as a win in the championship.
That reality is what the USMNT will face this weekend as they play against Panama in the third place game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. A game in which neither team really wanted to be in but both teams are in nonetheless.
In terms of how both teams are preparing for the third place game, both teams are going about it in different ways. Panama, who got here in very controversial means after losing to Mexico, spent Friday morning playing a game of kickball as a part of their training. Whether they did it as a way to give the players a break and keep them loose or they’re still incredibly upset and would rather this nightmare of a week just be over once and for all, that’s up to them.
On the other hand, the USMNT, who got here by getting upset by Jamaica 2-1, seems to be taking this game seriously and is making the best of a bad situation. While some fans won’t bother tuning in or paying attention to the game, Brad Evans put it in perspective in terms of how important this game actually is to the players and the coaching staff.
“Anytime you put on the badge, put on the jersey, it’s a game, it’s a real game. We’re also playing what’s become a rival now in Panama. It’s constantly been a tough game and these guys are going to be hungry. And they’re going to be pissed from their last result as well. So we’ve got to be aware, we’ve got to be conscious about our efforts. Reality is, it’s a game and for some of us, at the end of the Gold Cup, is this the last run for some guys? Is it not? That’s the thought process in people’s minds so that’s the reality of it.”
Evans makes an excellent point and it alludes back to the last time the USMNT played in a “meaningless” game against Panama. The final World Cup Qualifying game for the USMNT back in 2013 against Panama was unnecessary for the USMNT but extremely important for Panama to qualify for the World Cup. While it wouldn’t have mattered if the USMNT won or lost that game, that game was still important to the players playing in that game. The players on the USMNT knew that the team would be going to Brazil but they themselves didn’t know if they would be going to Brazil. That motivation and desire to keep putting on the USA shirt resulted in a 3-2 USA win and eliminated Panama from qualifying in the World Cup in favor of Mexico.
Jurgen Klinsmann has stressed time and time again that each training session and each game is an audition for future appearances with the national team. A great performance by someone like Brad Evans on Saturday may mean he gets to play in World Cup Qualifying games, the Confederations Cup playoff and maybe even the ultimate honor, the World Cup. Yeah, the third place game may be meaningless to a lot of fans, but it will be the most important game to those people on the field.