After crashing out of the Gold Cup in a historic semifinal upset loss to Jamaica, the US men’s national team has a chance to salvage its summer in 10 weeks.
On October 9, the US will play Mexico in a one-game playoff to decide which CONCACAF team goes to the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017.
It’s a bit convoluted (we’d expect nothing less of CONCACAF), but North American soccer’s governing body decided that the region’s Confederations Cup berth would be decided in a playoff between the winners of the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cups. The US won the 2013 tournament. If they’d won it again this summer, they would have secured an automatic trip to Russia. Instead, they will play Mexico, which won the 2015 Gold Cup in a 3-1 win over Jamaica.
It’s an important game. It will be played in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd at the Rose Bowl. Outside of a Gold Cup final or a World Cup qualifier, this is as big as US-Mexico gets on North American soil.
Making the Confederations Cup would give the US some advantages heading into the 2018 World Cup. The event, an eight-team tournament that takes place a year before at the same venues as Russia 2018, serves as a bit of a trial run for the real thing. The teams can get familiar with the facilities and travel. In addition, competitive international games between first-choice teams are hard to come by. Between now and the 2018 World Cup, the US only has World Cup qualifiers to test themselves in a competitive environment.
It also comes at a confusing time for the US team and coach Jurgen Klinsmann. After making it out of the Group of Death at the 2014 World Cup and beating Germany and Holland on the road at the beginning of the summer, the Gold Cup was a disaster. The US got outplayed for long stretches of its three group stage games before falling to a Caribbean team on US soil for the first time in 47 years. For the first time in his tenure, Klinsmann is facing legitimate criticism in the wake of a clear failure.
While he still has US Soccer behind him (president Sunil Gulati said Klinsmann’s job is safe, even if he loses to Mexico), this feels like a big moment for the German coach. If he wins, he’ll put the Jamaica loss behind him. If he loses on October 9, though, the cries for US Soccer to hold him to the same standards as his predecessors and evaluate whether he’s the right manager to lead the team will only get louder. The US hasn’t lost to Mexico since the 2011 Gold Cup final, it’d be an awful time to reverse that trend.
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