American soccer fan Travis Reuther wrestled with his emotions during last night’s Gold Cup quarterfinal between Mexico and Costa Rica. He couldn’t help wondering—did corruption play a role in the outcome?
July 20, 2015
REFEREES MAKE BAD CALLS EVERY DAY.Sometimes these bad calls occur in elimination games, inside the penalty area, in stoppage time of extra time. Sunday’s Gold Cup quarterfinal between Costa Rica and Mexico was one such occasion, as a bogus last-minute penalty decision gifted Mexico a 1-0 victory and a trip to the semifinals.
Make no mistake about it—this type of incident also occasionally occurs in official European, South American, African, and Asian competitions, but one could be forgiven for immediately pointing the finger at CONCACAF. Having played a prominent role in the recent corruption investigation and arrests, the North American federation is notorious for being FIFA’s most corrupt.
On soccer fields everywhere between Canada and Costa Rica (including the Caribbean), questionable refereeing decisions, shady distribution and advertising deals, and chaotic tournaments are all par for the course.
The issue this time is that CONCACAF had a strong incentive for wanting Mexico to progress to the next round, and even further.
The Gold Cup is usually a slugfest between Mexico and the U.S.—you’d have to go back to 2000 to find a tournament that was won by anyone else. As such, the traditional Gold Cup storyline, as told by relatively lucrative advertising deals, is that of rival giants battling for regional supremacy. By keeping the two largest markets on the continent involved in the tournament for as long as possible, organizers undoubtedly stand to gain a substantial financial windfall. Combine that motive with the fact that 10 of the 18 individuals recently indicted in the FIFA corruption case have direct ties to CONCACAF and you’ve got a couple fairly compelling reasons to be suspicious of the integrity of any part of the Gold Cup.
Indeed, when placed in the context of this systematically choreographed fraud, Mexican striker Oribe Peralta’s theatrical swan dive in the game’s 122nd minute, and the subsequent penalty call, seems like it’s following a script.
Dive aside, the Mexicans can be reasonably proud of their performance. Jonathan dos Santos never seemed to tire in central midfield. Jesus Corona and Carlos Esquivel came on and immediately ramped up the pressure on the Costa Rican defense. Andres Guardado, the captain, thoroughly controlled the game before eventually scoring the contoversial penalty. However, Mexico was still missing its two best attacking players, Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos, due to injury. Against a stout Costa Rican defense, El Tri was always likely to need a bit of luck to score.
The Costa Rican players were rightfully outraged by the call, which came after a lengthy discussion between Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez and his American assistant. Los Ticos are clearly the region’s third best team—closer to the top tier than the one below—which means they have the most to lose from any two-horse favoritism.
The American fan in me was heavily conflicted while watching this game. Unable to ever fully cheer on Mexico, I was naturally pulling for Costa Rica. And even though it’s tough to see the Costa Ricans fall in such a ridiculous fashion, I was somewhat placated by the fact that we are now that much closer to a USA-Mexico final.
That’s the clash everybody wants to see—CONCACAF representatives and advertisers and the vast majority of fans. I want Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley to prove that they are the best players in CONCACAF. I’d love to see Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin rise to the challenge in the biggest game of their lives.
If everything goes according to plan, it should be a massive spectacle.
The only problem is that now, even if the U.S. wins, I’ll be thinking about the unfortunate Costa Ricans and wondering if the scheming suits in charge of the Gold Cup manipulated the results. I’ll be envisioning briefcases full of cash, backlot deals, and intimidated referees. An ugly thought will creep into my head—maybe the plan was for us to win all along.
This is Travis Reuther’s first piece for American Soccer Now. Share your thoughts in the Comments section below and follow him on Twitter.