The past few days I have been trying to come up with a list of reasons why the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup means something, both to the Canadian men's national team and as a soccer tournament generally.
I have so far thought of the following two items:
One -- Canada needs all the competitive games it can get, especially as a new generation of internationals is blooded into the first-team squad.
Two -- Soccer is fun to watch in the summer, even soccer as meaningless as what we'll see over the next three weeks.
That's it. That's all I've got.
From a Canadian perspective, young players such as Doneil Henry, Russel Teibert, Samuel Piette, Kyle Bekker and Jonathan Osorio will only benefit from Group Stage matches against Martinique, Panama and Mexico. They are the future of the program, and it was with that in mind veterans including Andr© Hainault, Kevin McKenna, Olivier Occean, Patrice Bernier and Dwayne De Rosario were omitted from the tournament roster.
Of course, the makeup of the squad is also a reflection of the reduced competitiveness of this Gold Cup.
Contested every two years, the event only draws the very best players from North American heavyweights Mexico and the United States in alternating instalments, meaning the continent's biggest stars (Mexico's Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera and the United States' Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore among them) won't be involved over the next few weeks.
Nor should they be.
For both countries, as well as Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica, the focus between now and October is on World Cup qualifying, and as recently as last month they were all involved in hotly competitive encounters as they jockeyed for position in CONCACAF's tricky six-team mini-tournament known as "The Hex."
In other words, the 2013 Gold Cup is little more than an inconvenience for the national sides that would typically attach some value to it, making it a rather diminished quantity as a whole. Winning it will mean something, but not a whole lot.
The good news for Canada is that it will rarely have as much of a chance at some international success as in the days leading up to and including the July 28 final at Chicago's Soldier Field.
That their closest rivals will be either disinterested or diluted through squad omissions has almost everything to do with that, although contending for a title would surely do wonders for a fan-base that has become disheartened by successive failures.
Victory would also serve as the ticket to a single-match playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner that will determine CONCACAF's representative at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
So it's not an altogether worthless competition.
Close, but not entirely.
Canadian player to watch -- Russel Teibert: The 20-year-old has scored two goals and assisted five others this season for a Vancouver Whitecaps side that looks sure to make the MLS playoffs for a second year in a row. One of Canada's top prospects, he is an electrifying winger who will be looking to both score goals and make plays for his teammates from wide areas.
Tournament player to watch -- Landon Donovan: The former United States captain is back in the international fold after a self-imposed exile that kept him out of his country's last six World Cup qualifiers. A good showing at the Gold Cup would almost certainly convince manager Jurgen Klinsmann to recall the 31-year-old to the full squad for a crucial pair of matches against Costa Rica and Mexico in October.
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