The summer international football calendar has been a busy one, but now it’s finally time for the main course: The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. This July, a dozen nations from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean will vie for soccer supremacy and regional bragging rights, as well as a potential shot at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
It’s hard not to get excited about all this, so we strapped on our helmets and took to the information superhighway, finding out all you need to know to get prepared for the tournament.
1 .A co-hosted Gold Cup! …Kind of…
The 12 previous editions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup have been held in the United States—and this 13th will be no different.
As they have for the last 24 years, great American cities like Carson, California and Chester, Pennsylvania will welcome the confederation’s soccer masses from near and far. With state-of-the-art facilities, large expatriate communities eager to represent their homelands, and a culture of absurd concession stand prices and parking fees, the United States is the obvious choice for ever-acquisitive CONCACAF to stage a tournament.
However, the governing body will deviate slightly from the established course, making this football fiesta a co-hosted endeavor with Canada. Sort of.
Unlike the two previous times the Gold Cup has been co-hosted—in 1993 and 2003, when Mexico split the tournament with the United States and even hosted the final—Canada will only be hosting a single matchday in Toronto. But, while it might not be a lot, it does mean something—especially for Shuéme the Owl, who believed her days as a mascot were over after the Women’s World Cup Final. Good news, Shuéme: you’re back in the game.
2. No awkward dinner guests!
The 2015 tournament marks a rare moment in recent Gold Cup history in which all the teams involved in the competition are both CONCACAF and FIFA members.
In years past, the tournament has seen some surprising results and surging runs courtesy of teams that, frankly, probably shouldn’t even be there.
In 2007, the non-FIFA affiliated, French overseas territory of Guadeloupe stormed onto the scene, barreling through the Gold Cup with wins over Canada and Honduras before bowing out to Mexico in a closely-fought semi-final. Two years later, the FIFA headhunters were back at it again, proving its earlier success was no fluke by rolling over Panama and Nicaragua.
In the 2013 Gold Cup, Martinique—also a non-FIFA affiliated, French island department—followed in Guadeloupe’s footsteps with a 1-0 win over Canada in the group stage. The hero that day at a packed(ish) Rose Bowl was Fabrice Reuperné, whose stoppage-time wonder-strike sunk the Canucks and wrote his name into Wikipedia stub history.
The Gold Cup’s surprising list of participants isn’t just composed of minnows, though. A year after claiming the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Brazil showed up to the party—albeit with an under-23 squad. Nevertheless, the youngsters reached the final against Mexico, losing out in extra-time after a tournament full of incredible performances from a 21-year-old Kaká.
Brazil also finished runners-up to Mexico in 1996, while South American nations Colombia and Peru have also had deep runs in the tournament. Africa and Asia have sent participants as well, with South Korea reaching the semis in 2002 and South Africa beating Mexico en route to a quarter-final appearance in 2005.
3. Happy 15th anniversary, Canadian soccer fans!
You know what else is crazy about the Gold Cup? Only one country that’s not the United States or Mexico has ever won the competition—and it’s Canada!
Yes, we’re serious, and, yes, we’re sure we don’t mean hockey.
Canada’s improbable run to the 2000 Gold Cup not only featured retired NBA star Steve Nash’s brother, but also a pulsating golden-goal victory over Mexico in the quarter-finals and a 2-0 win over Colombia in the final, a match that took place in front of 7,000 people and 86,000 empty chairs at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
4. Will Cuba finish with 23 players?
With each trip Cuba takes to the Gold Cup, there’s always a singular angle with which the media covers the tournament run: how many Cubans will defect to the U.S.? This is, in itself, a derivative approach, but a fair one given that it’s true. Cubans tend to ‘disappear’ sometimes in the midst of the team’s Gold Cup run. So regular is this occurrence that the Cuban team typically takes staff specifically tasked with preventing players from defecting.
Way back in 2002, two players defected from the Cuban team after telling officials they needed to make a phone call. Once their minders stepped away, the pair jumped into a taxi and kicked off their lives in the U.S.
Three years later, after scoring against Costa Rica in a group stage match, Maykel Galindo boarded a city bus in Seattle before asking the driver to contact a local Spanish-speaker he had just met.
While it’s easy to chuckle at the almost absurd situations that trail their defections, the reality is that most defectors find it difficult to adjust, not only because of their abruptly severed ties with relatives in Cuba, but because as is the course with professional careers in sport, sometimes they just don’t work out, with several defectors jaunting between teams in the U.S. before disappearing as quickly as they arrived.
5. An official song that makes no sense at all
When you think of the Gold Cup, do you immediately think of lavish Hollywood parties, Top 40 charts or talented actresses who double as singers? Yeah, neither do we, but that hasn’t stopped the Gold Cup, like most other international tournaments, from announcing an Official Song for each iteration of the tournament.
What is different, however, is that while most Official Songs feign some relation to the sport, the Gold Cup tends to reach for any song available, presumably flipping through stacks of free iTunes songs tournament organizers find during trips to Starbucks in the run-up to the tournament.
In 2003, a dance remix of Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” was used, likely as a passive-aggressive way of targeting players during warm-ups. A year earlier, Aliyah’s “More Than a Woman” took the lead, with song lyrics like “Midnight grindin’, my heart-rate’s climbin’” providing perfect background music to the U.S.’ second Gold Cup title. Green Day jumped into the fray in 2009 with a song that was probably horrible, while in 2013, Anna Kendrick’s ‘Cups’ played as teams entered stadiums across the country.
What’s the song for this year? Robin Schultz’s ‘Sun Goes Down,’ which sounds like every song you’ve ever heard on the radio.
6. A tragic and unacceptable absence of mascots
What’s the most depressing thing about the Gold Cup? Is it the inevitability of the U.S. or Mexico winning? The empty stadiums that trail games not involving those two teams? The misshapen trophy that looks like a shot glass for a giant? No, it’s the fact that Gold Cups don’t have mascots.
I know, I know. Take a deep breath before you pen a lengthy letter to your local Congressperson. Unlike the majority of tournaments across the world, from regional pub leagues to the World Cup, the Gold Cup simply doesn’t have a mascot, which is a shame, because despite a few setbacks (Super Victor, I’m looking at you), the mascot development process has improved over the last decade, with major tournaments successfully using mascots as a way to reach a younger audience with short attention spans.
It’s purely a sign of sloth, because the amount of potential mascots for the Gold Cup is limitless. U.S.-hosted tournaments could run with a Bald Eagle wearing boxing gloves or a plush John Adams. Tournaments in Mexico could introduce a Bald Eagle wearing slightly different colored boxing gloves or a plush Benito Juarez, while tournaments in Canada could run with a Maple Leaf with fangs. The options are boundless.
Here’s to a brighter Gold Cup future. One that includes mascots.