The Gold Cup — the CONCACAF championship for men’s national teams — begins this week. If you feel like there have been a lot of summer tournaments lately, you’re right. This is the third consecutive summer that the United States is hosting an international tournament, after the 2015 edition of the Gold Cup and last summer’s one-off, 100th-anniversary Copa America. Tournament fatigue is high, and with good reason. Don’t get sucked in by the advertising. This year’s tournament is barely more than an exhibition series.
The Gold Cup is supposed to be the Caribbean and North and Central America’s answer to the uber-popular European Championships — a summer tournament for international teams to establish regional dominance. In practice, though, it’s just a moneymaking exercise for CONCACAF, a way to earn money through ticket sales and TV rights. This is why it’s held every two years, instead of every four, and why every tournament has been hosted (at least in part) by the United States, and why Brazil was invited to take part in a number of the tournaments around the turn of the century. The competition is fine, but the cash is king.
From a competitive standpoint, the region’s top teams might fit better in a permanently expanded Copa America, the South American regional tournament. Held every four years, a pan-American tournament would provide CONCACAF’s best with much better competition. The remainder of CONCACAF, though, would be left out, and that’s the reason the Gold Cup will continue. A permanent spot in Copa America for North American sides is probably unrealistic.
The structure of both FIFA and CONCACAF means that every country gets an equal vote, which means votes of Antigua and Curacao and Montserrat count just as much as those of America and Costa Rica and Mexico.
CONCACAF funding is just about the only way the national federations on these tiny islands stay afloat. With 31 CONCACAF members from the Caribbean, and just 10 total from North and Central America, the power rests with the islands. North America brings almost all the viewers and sponsors and ticket sales into CONCACAF, but that money has to support soccer everywhere in the region.
So, despite fatigue, this year’s tournament will roll on. The top nations are mostly sending “B” teams. Such U.S. stars as Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey aren’t playing. Mexico is bringing just one player who has scored more than one international goal. Even lowly Canada is bringing 14 players who have never played in the Gold Cup.
With TV contracts long since signed and tickets already sold, fans will have to lower their expectations. Perhaps it might be a good time to pick out a smaller nation to cheer for, maybe Martinique or Curacao or French Guiana. It’d be appropriate, at least, since the reason that this Gold Cup is even being played is because of them.
• Soccer fans have long hailed NBC Sports for its excellent Premier League coverage, in which every game of the season was available to cable subscribers, either on TV or online. Starting next year, though, fans will have to pay an extra $50 for the online broadcasts, a financial blow to anyone who’s not a fan of the constantly televised “big” teams in Manchester, Liverpool or London. Hard to know how many fans will be willing to spend an extra $50, but “taking something people love and making it worse” is usually not a good business move.
• Atlanta has overtaken Seattle as the MLS attendance leader, averaging over 46,000 fans per game. I was in Atlanta last weekend, and I can vouch that this isn’t simply a case of cheap tickets flooding Bobby Dodd Stadium. The cheapest secondary-market ticket for Atlanta United’s home game against Colorado was more than $60, and some were selling for nearly $200. In comparison, upper-deck tickets behind home plate for the Atlanta Braves game the following day were barely $20.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
NWSL: Sky Blue at North Carolina, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime. Sky Blue (the team plays at Rutgers in New Jersey) has hovered around the final playoff spot all year, but two losses in four days this week dropped it down to fifth. North Carolina has won three consecutive matches and still leads the league comfortably. Sky Blue needs to stop its slide.
MLS: Portland at Kansas City, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN. Portland’s two road victories this year are two more than it managed all of last season. But even so, the Timbers’ travels aren’t going well; they’ve lost six consecutive road games. Even a point would be an accomplishment at Western Conference-leading Kansas City, which hasn’t lost at home all year.
Confederations Cup Final: Chile vs. Germany, 1 p.m. Sunday, FS1. All Chile does is win tournaments and, after winning two Copa America titles in two years, is one victory from adding a Confederations Cup to the trophy case. Germany gave most of its biggest stars the summer off, but the Germans have a similar winning pedigree — and have plenty of exciting young firepower.
MLS: New England at Philadelphia, 4 p.m. Sunday, FS1. Philadelphia didn’t win a game until May this season, then won four straight, followed by three more losses. This might be a chance for the Union to get things back in order. The Revolution is 0-9 on the road this season and has held opponents in those games to fewer than two goals only twice.