How long can you really enjoy a championship? Minutes after the culmination of months and months of work, it's a question that always gets asked. "Can you do it again?"
Coaches and players promise to enjoy this one for a little while and then get back to work. It's the endless cycle of sports. The work is tough and the euphoria that might come is short-lived. That's even more true for a tournament like the Copa Centroamericana.
Honduras finished off the competition with a 1-0 win over Belize on Sunday, becoming champion for the fourth time. Nominally, the tournament decides the best team in Central America. Functionally, it serves to qualify teams for the Gold Cup six months later.
Los Catrachos are the champions of Central America, and this isn't meant to diminish that, but it has to be taken in its proper context. While Honduras is champion, saying it's the best national team in Central America is still a stretch. With the competition taking place outside of the FIFA window, favorites Costa Rica and Panama certainly disappointed but will take heart in the fact that their best players weren't part of the failure to win the tournament. Panama and, particularly, Costa Rica could make stronger starting XIs composed entirely of players not present at the tournament.
While Honduras also was missing a few key elements - defender Emilio Izaguirre and midfielder Andy Najar are in Europe while MLS-based forwards Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto were not used in the final team after being named to the preliminary roster - many of these players will be back for March's World Cup qualification matches against the United States and Costa Rica. For Honduras manager Jorge Luis Pinto, the tournament was helpful for his players' progression.
"A lot of them grew in maturity and confidence," Pinto said. "Logically, they’re going to be the base of the national team for the Gold Cup and the World Cup qualifiers, where 12-15 of them minimum are going to be there supporting the rest."
Of course, in some respects that's a good thing for a national team that has badly needed a revamp since leaving the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with no points and a goal difference seven goals to the negative. Let's not forget that the last time this tournament was contested, Honduras fell to the fifth-place spot and had to play a playoff to even qualify for the Gold Cup. It then scraped by French Guiana, losing the first leg
Since Pinto's arrival, there have been signs of a transformation, of replacements coming through for the players who got Honduras to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and put it firmly at the top of the second tier of the region. 2016 was a mixed bag for Honduras, but Elis emerging as an option up top for the senior team was a highlight. Now, the tournament's top scorer, Eddie Hernandez, looks like a solid option off the bench as he heads for a new club team as well. Bringing Najar back into the fold after injury and getting defenders Maynor FIgueroa, Izaguirre and Brayan Beckeles around center back Henry Figueroa could help Honduras take the momentum from this win into qualification and the Gold Cup.
"I feel very proud of the whole team, first off because it was an extraordinary job," Hernandez said. "We came in with a goal that only those of us inside the locker room believed we could reach. We had people supporting us, logically, but it was our own vision."
So it will be for Honduras in the next stage, as well. Pinto's men spilitting their first two qualifiers make things difficult with Costa Rica and Mexico off to quick starts and the United States unlikely to continue its skid. If Honduras does qualify for a third consecutive World Cup, this tournament will be remembered as a sterling building block. If not, the triumph will go down like pyrite — a piece of fool's gold that was treasured only briefly before the true nature of the triumph was revealed.