After some early 2014 World Cup qualifying struggles, underwhelming results and growing pains, Jurgen Klinsmann's USA has begun to hit its stride. It has held serve in home qualifying matches, meshed together while facing adversity and beaten the teams it is supposed to beat while springing the occasional surprise result.
The USA currently sits atop the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying hexagonal, with only a catastrophic final four qualifying matches preventing the Americans from reaching Brazil 2014. Elsewhere, the stars are aligning quite nicely for the Americans. Rival Mexico in a bit of a tailspin, no matter who suits up for El Tri or what competition is taking place, so it seems. The rest of CONCACAF remains a cut below.
That is why that even though the 2013 edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup is nowhere near a must-win tournament for competitive reasons, there is still ample reason to put an emphasis on making a statement, coming out on top and not just using the tournament for experimentation. The opportunity is there for the USA to take another step in reclaiming its dominance over the region and wrestle it away from struggling Mexico by continuing to take care of business on U.S. soil.
In 2009, Mexico snapped the USA's two-time Gold Cup reign with a 5-0 thumping in the final at the old Giants Stadium in a "throwaway" Gold Cup that meant little aside from bragging rights. With that final as the tipping point, the USA has spent the better part of the last four years -- most notably the 2011 Gold Cup final -- looking up at El Tri. With its chief competitor wobbling, though, the USA has a chance to deliver a devastating blow and return the favor by ending Mexico's two-tournament reign.
Although it is not the traditional "off year" Gold Cup, the competition is still being touted as an opportunity for fringe USA players, or household names with something to prove, to state their cases for inclusion during the final World Cup qualifiers, and eventually next summer's World Cup.
In many ways, that is indeed the case. Despite having as glowing a resume as any U.S. international in history, Landon Donovan needs this tournament to prove his worth and get back in the "A Team." Stuart Holden has a chance to show just how far along he is in his return to form. Oguchi Onyewu has an opportunity to show he still has enough in the tank to stay near the upper echelon of the center back depth chart. U.S. Soccer has even made a point to rehash all of the players who have used the Gold Cup as a launching pad for further success in the past.
The tournament could be about so much more, though, something along the lines of that 2009 fallout. Regardless of the "B Team" nature of the competition, with only a place in a playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner for the region's 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup berth on the line, a psychological edge is at stake. The U.S. men's national team has not stood upon a victory podium in celebration since 2007, after Benny Feilhaber's superb volley dethroned Mexico at Chicago's Soldier Field and cemented the USA's place in the 2009 Confederations Cup.
Six years later, the winner's podium at the same venue awaits. No, the prize is not as large. Failing to win this tournament would not spell an ounce of doom for the USA or Klinsmann, and doing so would hardly put a detour on the road to Brazil. But taking care of business and emerging victorious in a region seemingly up for grabs would be another step in having the USA reclaim its territorial dominance without having a single excuse to make.