Fourteen years after they initiated the Gold Cup, CONCACAF officials boast that their tournament revenue has increased 800 percent and teams from the region have improved. But the biennial tourney is struggling for recognition at home and abroad, and many teams don't send all their top players.
"It used to have an interesting appeal," said former U.S. team forward Eric Wynalda, now a TV analyst. "I used to look forward to playing in it. It had the best the countries could offer.
"Now it's a middle-class tournament. I don't think it's as special as it used to be."
When FIFA started its monthly rankings 12 years ago, no CONCACAF nation was in the top 10, one was listed among the top 25 and nine were among the top 100. After eight editions of the Gold Cup, two CONCACAF countries are in the top six, three are in the top 25 and nearly a dozen are counted among the best hundred.
With the Gold Cup now generating CONCACAF eight times the revenue it did in 1991, CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer -- who would not give specific figures -- says the tournament funds every major development program in the confederation.
Blazer said the objective of the Gold Cup is to keep the national teams -- especially from the smaller Central American and Caribbean countries -- continually playing so as to better prepare them for international competition.
"It's a total success," Blazer said. "It didn't start out to finance us, but now it does support all the development programs and pays for all the other competitions."
Other economic gauges also are encouraging for CONCACAF, soccer's governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean. The Spanish-language broadcast of the Jamaica-Mexico first-round match earlier this month was the highest-rated sports program among Hispanics living in the United States in the past 10 months.
But there were no English language broadcasts in the United States for the tournament this year -- not even for games involving the U.S. team.
Additionally, all or parts of every Gold Cup have been staged in the United States, and attendance can be correlated largely to the presence and success of Mexico.
The two biggest crowds at this year's tournament were doubleheaders involving the four-time Gold Cup champions: 60,050 for Mexico's quarterfinal loss to Colombia in Houston, and 45,311 for its first-round victory over Jamaica, also in Houston.
The semifinal doubleheader involving the United States at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., drew a crowd of 41,721, and Sunday's final, also at Giants Stadium, between the United States and Panama attracted 31,018.
That crowd figure falls between the 80,000 that attended the 2002 final between Mexico and Brazil in Mexico City, and the 14,432 at the 2000 final between the United States and Costa Rica in Pasadena, Calif. The 2000 final between Colombia and Canada in Los Angeles drew 7,000.
Outside of CONCACAF, awareness is less than universal. U.S. midfielder John O'Brien, who plays for ADO The Hague, had to explain to his Dutch club the significance of the Gold Cup.
"A lot of people say, 'This isn't an official tournament, is it? They can't make us release you,'" O'Brien said. "And I have to explain: This is our European Championship."
But it's not treated like the European Championship by everybody.
The United States brought a roster with four players who had never played for the national team. Mexico, coming off a fourth-place finish at the Confederations Cup, also had a weakened squad. South Africa, one of two invited teams along with Colombia, brought what some described as a "C" team.
Panama manager Jose Hernandez even acknowledged the Gold Cup was not his first priority.
Although issues remain that keep the Gold Cup from gaining wider acceptance and stature, personal pride provides incentive for the players.
"You don't get many chances to win as professionals," U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan said. "This could be the last time I ever win anything. I hope not, but you never know."