Increase participation of CONCACAF teams
CONCACAF is made up of 40 members but only 12 nations get to play in their regional tournament. This is an injustice that other members can not participate in their regional tournament. The World Cup USA was a huge boost to soccer in states in 1994. Participating in any World Cup is a boost for the profile of the sport in any country that fields a team. Regional tournament like the Gold Cup also raises the awareness and interest of the sport of participating nations. Expanding the tournament to 16 team’s will increases CONCACAF participation from 12 teams to 14 teams. Fringe teams like Haiti, Cuba and Martinique that have made the tournament in the past would have a realistic of making the tournament on a consistent basis. This would give each country something to shoot for every 2 years. This tournament could showcase their country national team and provide essential exposure to their domestic league. Nicaragua will play in their first ever Gold Cup and the nation is abuzz. "It's an unbelievable thing for a team like Nicaragua," said head coach Otoniel Olivas. "It's as if we're going to the World Cup!" This is Nicaragua chance to capitalize on its national team’s success and grow its weak domestic league. This would also open the door for other nations like Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Guyana who also have never made the Gold Cup. Puerto Rico just started a soccer league in 2008 and participation in the Gold Cup could provide a huge boost to the interest to the game for the large Caribbean island. Guyana and the Dominican Republic are 2 sleeping giants within CONCACAF that could soon compete with the elite of their region.
Increase the Importance of Group play
Expansion to 16 teams would also increase the significance of group play. Presently group play only knocks out 4 teams in the 12 team tournament. A 16 team format would only have the top 2 teams of each group advancing. This immediately put more emphasis on each group play game. Every game becomes that much more crucial.
CONCACAF is top heavy and the top teams are not challenged in group play. The top teams need equally talented teams to play that just can not be found in CONCACAF. Nations like Republic of Ireland, Poland and Italy from EUFA. These Euro teams have excellent national teams and could also provide a great fans base here in the states. Cameroon, Nigeria and S Africa from CAF would also provide interest. These African teams will be highly visible in World Cup South Africa and could give the Gold Cup a taste of African soccer which is very direct and rugged. Colombia and Ecuador have participated in the past and also provided the Gold Cup with entertaining soccer. Colombia even made it to the Gold Cup Final on year. CONMEBOL nations bring creativeness and flair to the game. These guess teams would bring a real World Cup feel to the Gold Cup.
Create more balanced groups
Two of these guest teams can be placed in group play with either USA or Mexico. We all know USA, Mexico and Costa Rica will advance to the knock our round in the present set up. Grenada and Haiti just do not strike fear into the top teams like a World Cup participant would. Guess teams would provide more balanced groups. IT was Brazil and Colombia who knocked the yanks out of 2 Gold Cups. Mexico was also knocked out by Peru and Republic of Korea. These guess teams will provide the unpredictability and excitement the Gold Cup needs. This would give all CONCACAF teams better competition right from the start in group play. We could finally have a real “Group of death” within our own Gold Cup.
CONCACAF nations could also see how our nations stack up against other federations outside CONCACAF. Many of our teams do not participate in the World Cup and it would be a great chance to see how they fair against the different styles of competition. Panama beat S Africa and Colombia in 2005 and those victories propelled Panama soccer status. This is the exposure guess teams can provide
Lack of Competition
One of the main reasons to invite guess teams is to provide badly needed competition to the tournament. We do not have to look any further than the most recent World cup Qualifying. In the first round Suriname beat Montserrat 7-1, Grenada beat US Virgin Islands 10-0 and El Salvador pounded Anguella 16-0 aggregate. The second round still has non competitive games. The USA just beat Barbados 9-0 aggregate, Mexico matched the beating and pounded Belize 9-0, Guatemala smacked St Lucia 9-1 aggregate and a mediocre Canada team slammed St Vincent 7-1 aggregate. The final 12 on qualifying should have been close however there is still a huge gap in the talent in CONCACAF. Three teams (Canada, Haiti and Suriname) did not even win a game in the Final round even when they played at home. Canada is always in CONCACAF’s top 12 and they automatically qualify for the Gold Cup. Haiti made this year Gold Cup and Gold Cup 2007 and they could not win a game. Costa Rica was a complete 6-0 with 20 GF and only 3 GA in their semi-final group play. The US was 5-1 record with 14 GF and 3 GA. (The US played its B team its last 2 game since they already qualified). The competition of the final 12 teams in CONCACAF for World Cup Qualifying is just not there.
To go a step further we see that USA and Mexico have dominated Gold Cup play. Each nation has won 4 Gold Cups apiece. The USA has a 33 wins and only 5 losses. Mexico has 27 wins and 6 losses. Between them their record is a staggering 60 wins and 11 losses. However, of the 11 loses only 2 came against other CONCACAF teams. It was the guess teams that challenged and knocked out the top teams in CONCACAF out. The yanks were beaten by Mexico twice, Brazil twice and Columbia. Mexico was knocked out by Yanks twice, Korea Republic, Peru and Canada and the (Honduras posted Mexico’s other loss). The guess teams have the Gold Cup very unpredictable and exciting. Do not think that other CONCACAF teams can not beat the foreign teams. Costa Rica dispatched Republic of Korea in 2002 and Canada knocked out Columbia in the final in 2000. Panama had a double foreign knockout of S Africa and Columbia in 2005.These were great memorable games that each nation can be proud of.
Here is a look at what groups could look like.
Group A- (Mexico, S Africa, El Salvador and Jamaica )
Mexico would still be the favorite here. Their green shirts and red socks are famous for providing excellent soccer. They are a 4 time Gold Cup winner. They garnish the most media attention and they have a number of international stars. They have been the CONCACAF power for years and can pack any stadium in the states. Jamaica is the reigning Caribbean Champion will provide a never back down attitude. They have great fans who demand a lot. El Salvador was shown tremendous growth and interest from it fans after getting through the semi-finals and making the Hex. El Salvador could represent Central America in this group. S Africa is the guest nation and they will greatly spice up group play and challenge to top teams here. We could see how each of our regions stacks up against a CAF national team in So Africa.
Group B – (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Trinidad, Cuba )
This group could pit 2 top Central American teams against 2 Caribbean powers. Costa Rica would be a favorite here. They have been the Central American regional power for years on both the club and national level. They have international stars in FW Saborio, MF Walter Ceneino and Carlos Hernandez (La Galazy) to look for. Trinidad & Tobago has been the Caribbean regions top power for a decade. They also have their international stars in FW Stern John and FW Sunderland’s Kenwyne Jones who are big and can score with little space. Guatemala would be a team that might not make a 12 team tourney but would make a 16 team field. Their exposure in such a tournament could enhance their domestic league. Cuba has been fielding good teams on both the youth and senior levels. They are starting to become a very consistent top team in the Caribbean. This would be a highly competitive group.
Group C – (Honduras, Canada, Guyana, Haiti)
This group would have a nation from each of the 3 CONCACAF regions represented here. Honduras would be the favorite team here with top quality players in FW David Suazo, Edgar Alvarez (Pisa Calcio) and DF Ivan Guerrero (Rapids). Canada plays an organized defensive style with their big athletic players. They resemble a European style and they would challenge for the top spot. There would be 2 teams from the Caribbean in Haiti and Guyana. Both of these teams would benefit from the expansion to 16 teams. The Jaguars from Guyana is a nation from the soccer mad South American continent. Haiti won the Caribbean Cup in 2007 and has come a long way in recent times. The Gold Cup is where they can show case their talent. They have many fans here in America that will support their country.
Group D - (USA, Nigeria, Panama, and Guadeloupe)
The USA would showcase this group. The Yanks have won the Gold Cup 4 times and are the defending Champs. Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard would be the players to watch. If they do not advance it would be a real upset in this group. Nigeria and Panama could challenge them for the top spot in this group. Panama is the reigning Central American Champion and have stars in G Jamie Penedo and FW Perez. Nigeria is one of the top teams from the African continent and fans could bring their very direct and fast style to the group. Guadeloupe would not be counted out of this at all. They play very organized and are opportunistic on offense. The have played very well from 2006 Caribbean Cup, 2007 Gold Cup and 2008 Caribbean cup. This French department brings very passionate fans. We could be treated to another French international star like J Angloma dazzled us in 2007.
Guest teams would greatly enhance the Gold Cup. First Concacaf nations would increase from 12 teams to 14 teams. 2 more 2 teams could play in the Gold Cup. The guess teams would create more balanced groups and challenge everyone on group play. The gold Cup could more away from the ridiculous 12 team format where only 4 teams get knocked out in the group stage. There would be more of an emphasis in group play that is lacking now. This action would prepare all CONCACAF teams for the cut throat action of the World Cup. We could also see how our (CONCACAF) teams stack up against other federations. It would create more interest both with in CONCAFCAF and to the other federations that have a team playing. This would also get all teams ready for the intensity of the World Cup matches. World Class teams like Cameroon, Ireland, Nigeria and Italy could legitimize our federation. It would prove we could play with the top teams in the world. I might even save our 3.5 CONCACAF spots which is most important. I vote in favor of expanding the Gold Cup with guest teams.