In a conference call with media, the head of U.S. Soccer bristled at the suggestion that taking developing players to the Gold Cup showed any lack of respect for the tournament or competition.Despite the lopsided 5-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final this past Sunday, U.S. Soccer federation president Sunil Gulati managed to look at the overall picture.
"We've had a very good run against Mexico over the last decade in games played in the U.S.," said Gulati over the phone to a group of reporters.
He acknowledged that the final wasn't the result that he had hoped for.
"It was very disappointing, on Sunday, to lose to a rival by that score," Gulati said. "That's felt by the players, our coaching staff, and by our fans."
Yet Gulati had some justification for the result.
"Most people recognize that the only overlap from players who were available for the Confederations Cup was Heath Pearce, who hadn't played in South Africa, to playing in the Gold Cup,"
However, Gulati also claimed the Americans would be looking for payback in the upcoming World Cup qualifying match August 12 against Mexico in Azteca stadium, where the US has never won.
"We get a chance for redemption very quickly," said Gulati. "I think we'll have a different look squad."
Still, Gulati praised the Gold Cup players - to a certain point.
"I think the group that played in the Gold Cup, for five-and-a-half games, did very well. I think people were surprised that we had that much depth."
The U.S. battled Mexico to a draw for the first half of the Gold Cup final, then yielded a penalty and four more goals in quick succession.
"Clearly, the first goal unnerved them," Gulati observed. "It was a very bad thirty minutes, but I don't think it reverses or undoes the real progress we made in June and 25 days of July."
When confronted about the number of inexperienced players on the Gold Cup roster, Gulati had an explanation.
"We made a conscious decision (to use mostly different players)," Gulati said. "In the case of Charlie (Davies), he was starting with a brand new club and the decision was to let him start with that club, so he could integrate himself into that team and be a regular player for them into next year. Same in Benny's (Feilhaber) case. Some were never going to be part of the squad - those were players who had played regularly in Europe, had featured in the Confederations Cup, and if called into the Gold Cup, they would not have had any break at all going into the preseason. Certain players were changing clubs, or coming back from injuries - or hoped to be changing clubs, Jozy (Altidore) in that category, Freddy Adu, possibly, in that category."
Gulati defended the US roster against the idea that they weren't a strong enough squad to contend for the title.
"At halftime on Sunday, no one was thinking that. Ten minutes later, after a penalty kick that was controversial, no one was thinking that. Twenty minutes later, maybe someone was thinking that. But I don't regret that decision, given the thought that went into that. We clearly couldn't have fielded the side that we did for the Confederations Cup, given the need for rest before those players before they have to get back to their team."
The federation head also took issue with any contention that the US showed a lack of respect for the Gold Cup tournament by not fielding a stronger squad.
"We got to the final of the event. We lost one game in the tournament. Admittedly, it was a lopsided result. For five and a half games, it wasn't disrespectful. Would we have preferred, in an ideal situation to have more players who are going to be on the field on August 12 participating? The answer is yes."
More specific examples were cited by Gulati.
"Would we have wanted to have Oguchi Onyewu playing with us instead of playing exhibition games with AC Milan? Ideally, yes. Would it have been fair to him to have no break after eleven months of playing? The same is true of Clint Dempsey, or of a dozen other players I could name. I don't think the question is of respect. We respect the competition."
Andrea Canales, Goal.com
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