Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gold Cup Roster and Commentary

From the US National Team Players Association

GC: USA Roster
GK: Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEF: Carlos Bocanegra (St Etienne), Jonathan Bornstein (Tigres), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Eric Lichaj (Leeds United), Oguchi Onyewu (FC Twente), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
MID: Freddy Adu (Rizespor), Michael Bradley (Aston Villa), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jermaine Jones (Blackburn Rovers), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
FOR: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Jozy Altidore (Bursaspor), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
The US In The '91 Gold Cup

By Clemente Lisi – After qualifying for the 1990 World Cup finals, the next big moment for United States soccer came the following year. The National Team – once considered a CONCACAF doormat – did what at the time was considered the unthinkable by knocking out Mexico in the semifinals and beating Honduras in the championship game to win the 1991 Gold Cup.

“That was one of the first times that as a National Team player, going into a tournament, that I felt we there to drive the play and push our game on other teams,” recalled Peter Vermes, who served as team captain at the time. “A lot of times prior and leading up to that tournament, we were just trying to hang with these guys as opposed to dominating the game. I felt that’s what we did throughout the tournament, including the game against Mexico in the semifinal.”

Now, 20 years after that triumph over Honduras at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, the United States has again set its sights on winning the Gold Cup. The National Team has come a long way since 1991, winning four out of 10 Gold Cups and qualifying for every World Cup.

“(The National Team was) much different than it is today, that’s for sure. We were really just starting to come into our own,” Vermes said when talking about the 1991 team. “I think the success of that Gold Cup gave us a really big jump forward. It said that we could be a dominant force in CONCACAF and gave us a lot of momentum moving towards the next World Cup.”

The Gold Cup was in its infancy. That tournament was the first to serve as a true championship for the region. Since 1973, CONCACAF crowned a champion by awarding the title to the country with the best record in World Cup Qualifying. In 1991, CONCACAF decided to hold its own championship, modeled after the Copa America, and invited eight teams to play at the Memorial Coliseum and Rose Bowl over nine days.

The United States won its group, defeating Trinidad & Tobago 2-1; Guatemala 3-0; and Costa Rica 3-2, to advance to the semifinals. The most thrilling moment from the first round was Marcelo Balboa’s bicycle-kick goal in the final minute to give the USA a comeback victory over T&T.

Once in the semis, the Americans were pitted against Mexico (who finished second to Honduras on goal differential in the other group) for a July 5th date at the Memorial Coliseum before a pro-Mexico crowd of 41,000. The Americans had not defeated Mexico since 1980, a 2-1 win during Qualifying for the 1982 World Cup. Prior to that, the USA had defeated Mexico in 1934, a game held in Rome to determine who would advance to the World Cup.

The Americans had a slight edge in that they were coached by Bora Milutinovic, who US Soccer had been hired shortly after the team went 0-3 at the ‘90 World Cup. The Serbian-born manager had coached Mexico at the 1986 World Cup, getting them into the quarterfinals. Beloved by Mexicans, Milutinovic had mixed emotions going into that game. John Doyle’s goal in the 48th minute and a second from Vermes in the 64th would seal the win.

Milutinovic, who now works for the Qatar-based Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence, recalled that the pro-Mexican crowd applauded the US players at the end of the match.

“It was a really great experience for me. I was very proud of the players,” he said. “The Mexicans (in the crowd) respected me and they were happy for me. It was great to see.”

As captain, Vermes said he felt the extra pressure of trying to keep the players focused throughout the tournament. The lineup featured many players who would go on to be the core of the USA’s 1994 World Cup squad, including goalkeeper Tony Meola (who was named 1991 Gold Cup MVP) and striker Eric Wynalda.

“I think at that time it was a little bit of a transition – we had a new coach with Bora Milutinovic – but I think all in all it was my duty to make sure that as a team we were all connected on and off the field,” said Vermes, who now works as head coach of Sporting Kansas City.

Milutinovic said winning the Gold Cup was vital for the team’s development and set the stage for the USA’s run to the Round of 16 at the ’94 World Cup.

“Winning was very important for the future of the USA. I think it was very important for football in the USA and the World Cup that was to come.”

For Vermes, the victory over Mexico – and the win over Honduras two days later 4-3 penalties following a scoreless draw – was the start of the USA’s ongoing run as an elite team in CONCACAF.

“We had been dominated by Mexico for many years up to that point and I think the commanding victory and the way we approached the game and the way we played, I think it surprised them quite a bit,” he said. “I think it was the beginning step in this dominance we’ve had over them in CONCACAF for many years now. I think it was the beginning of letting Mexico know that there was another team in CONCACAF that they were going to have to deal with, and I think since then we have risen to the top and become that dominant force.”

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