A few final thoughts about the U.S. national team’s Gold Cup opener against Canada on Tuesday night:
*The criticism of the attendance is unwarranted. More than 28,000 spectators — almost all supporting the USA — turned out on a Tuesday night in an economically hard-hit city. Neither the U.S. opponent nor the teams playing in the first game of the doubleheader (Panama and Guadeloupe) brought any buzz, and despite the proximity to the border, only a few hundred Canadians crossed the river from Windsor. True, playing in a giant stadium less than half full doesn’t make for quality TV and, after a 17-year wait, the fine folks of Michigan didn’t exactly storm the box office to see the Americans perform again. But 28,000 — or whatever the true figure was — is 28,000. (I’d be surprised if the weekend crowd in Tampa for the USA-Panama match exceeds the Detroit total.)
Consider the crowds for U.S. Gold Cup openers over the years:
2009: 15,000 in Seattle for Grenada
2007: 27,000 (sellout) in Carson for Guatemala
2005: 15,000 in Seattle for Cuba
2003: 33,000 in Foxborough for El Salvador
2002: 42,000 in Pasadena for South Korea (guest)
2000: 49,000 in Miami for Haiti
1998: 11,000 in Oakland for Cuba
1996: 12,000 in Anaheim for Trinidad & Tobago
1993: 11,000 in Dallas for Jamaica
1991: 18,000 in Pasadena for T&T
Keep in mind this is a CONCACAF tournament, not a USSF event, and the venues were selected by the confederation after a bidding and vetting process.
For much more from Detroit.....
*Stop scheduling matches on artificial turf fields that have been covered with temporary natural grass. There aren’t enough grass facilities in this massive country that we need to go to the expense, hassle and injury risk to players by piecing together slabs of grass from a turf farm? This isn’t Siberia in January; there are venue options. The temporary grass is too soft and absorbs a bouncing ball like a child diving into oversized pillows. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but if you watched the past two games, you understand my point.) As we witnessed Saturday (USA-Spain) and Tuesday, the new fields caused players to slip and were aesthetic failures. (By the second half, the field looked as if it had been involved in a knife fight.) Clint Dempsey said Sunday that players were concerned about getting caught in a seam and damaging an ankle or knee.
USA Coach Bob Bradley was diplomatic, saying that such arrangements are necessary in order to play important games in big stadiums. He added, however, that “it’s tough on the players. It’s not something players want to complain about; we never want to take away from the good things when there is a great crowd in one of our magnificant stadiums. But we’ve got to find better ways to do it because, honestly, for the players, it’s very, very hard. Recovery is hard, it’s tough on their legs during the game, you see guys slipping. Hopefully we can find better ways because coming to stadiums like this [Ford Field], it’s an amazing facility.”
*RFK Stadium awaits. For Washington soccer fans, the Americans are on course to advance to the quarterfinal doubleheader on the banks of the mighty Anacostia. Whether they finish first or second in Group C — and, barring a disaster in the last two matches, that is almost assured — they’ll play in the nation’s capital on Sun., June 19 at either 3 or 6 p.m. The opponent would likely be Jamaica, Honduras or Guatemala.
*Uh-oh, Canada. Our northern neighbors have not only failed to defeat the United States in 14 consecutive matches (0-8-6) since 1985, they haven’t defeated the Americans on U.S. soil since a 1958 World Cup qualifier in St. Louis (June 22, 1957).
*Altidore’s breakthrough. As The Sporting News’ Brian Straus points out, Jozy Altidore’s goal Tuesday was the first by a starting U.S. forward in a major tournament since Davy Arnaud scored against Haiti in the third of six games during the 2009 Gold Cup. At last year’s World Cup, midfielders (Landon Donovan’s three, plus one apiece by Dempsey and Michael Bradley) supplied the goals.
The criticism heaped on Altidore the past year has been somewhat justified -- strikers need to finish their chances, even if service is intermittent — but keep in mind that he won’t turn 22 until November. Bradley is hoping that age begets consistency. With a boost in confidence, Altidore should be able to impose his physical style on Panama, Guadeloupe and others in the Gold Cup.
After this tournament, the most essential element to his development is regular playing time on the club level, whether it’s in Spain, Turkey or elsewhere in Europe.
*It’s Tim Ream’s time. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to see a lot of the New York Red Bulls’ second-year center back in this World Cup cycle. With Oguchi Onyewu’s injuries and general vulnerability and Carlos Bocanegra’s age (32), it’s essential for a young defender to make a mark now. Ream is the one. Omar Gonzalez, in his third year with the Los Angeles Galaxy, is also on the radar but isn’t as well-rounded as Ream. Down the road, should he continue his rapid development and ascend to the Olympic squad next year, D.C. United rookie Ethan White might enter the national team picture. [Update: I’ll also add United’s Perry Kitchen to the list, but because he has bounced between positions and missed time this year, White receives a slight edge.]
*Panama is no pushover. The Americans’ opponent Saturday in Tampa has never beaten the U.S. team (six losses, two draws), but has been a difficult Gold Cup foe. The three U.S. victories were by 2-1 scores and the tie was a scoreless affair in the 2005 final, which was decided by penalty kicks (3-1, USA). In building a 3-0 lead on Tuesday, Panama was quick, sharp and clever in attack — it also nearly scored from midfield — but exhibited defensive frailities, lapses in concentration and faulty finishing in allowing 10-man Guadeloupe to nearly draw even in the final moments.