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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

U.S. has an extra advantage in Gold Cup

Under pressure from the U.S., CONCACAF is allowing the U.S. to draw from a 30-man roster while the other 11 teams in the three-week tournament are limited to only 23 players.

July 03, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES | ON SOCCER

If the national soccer coaches and players of Grenada, Honduras and Haiti are griping today, they have good reason.

All three countries will be playing the U.S. in the first round of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup that begins tonight. The U.S. is the defending champion, is playing at home, is 21-0-1 all-time in the Gold Cup's opening round, and is coming off a second-place finish in the far more demanding Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Yet, despite these obvious advantages,the U.S. has been given a considerable competitive break.

Under pressure from the U.S., CONCACAF, which controls soccer in the North and Central American and Caribbean region, is allowing the U.S. to draw from a 30-man roster while the other 11 teams in the three-week tournament are limited to 23 players.

The Gold Cup playing field, in other words, will not be a level one.

A statement from U.S. Soccer said the provision was provided "due to the extreme circumstances that teams face" when playing in consecutive tournaments so close together.

Just what those extreme circumstances are was unclear, especially since the U.S. team and soccer federation have stated that they would be fielding a reserve side in this year's tournament while taking the first-string American players to the Confederations Cup.

The fact that the U.S. has been allowed to add players after the other 11 teams in the tournament had named their rosters only underlines the injustice. Mexico Coach Javier Aguirre, for example, has selected a very young roster, one without such veterans as Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Rafael Marquez, Pavel Pardo and Carlos Salcido.

Chuck Blazer, general secretary of CONCACAF and an American, said the move was made "with the objective of providing the best performance possible for the public, and in recognition that the back-to-back tournaments strain players and their clubs."

Bob Bradley, the U.S. coach, immediately took advantage of CONCACAF's generosity Thursday by adding seven players from his Confederations Cup team to his Gold Cup roster: goalkeeper Brad Guzan, defender Jonathan Bornstein, midfielders Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan, and forwards Jozy Altidore and Conor Casey.

Clark, Feilhaber and Altidore all started in the 3-2 Confederations Cup final loss to Brazil in Johannesburg on Sunday.

Bradley is free to call upon any of the additional seven players as he sees fit during the July 3-26 tournament being played in 13 U.S. cities.

Asked about the U.S. having an unfair advantage, Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, said he did not view it that way.

"I don't think it's a very big issue, frankly," he said. "I guess it's a competitive disadvantage to have played five games that ended three days ago 10,000 miles away" in the Confederations Cup.

"We're not being given the opportunity to play with two goalkeepers in any given game. We're not going to be allowed to dress more than 18. All of those things are the same."

The U.S. opens Group B play against Grenada at Qwest Field in Seattle on Saturday; plays Honduras on Wednesday at RFK Stadium in Washington and Haiti on July 11 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

The U.S. and Mexico have each won the tournament four times and, are favored to square off in the July 26 final at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

Mexico's first-round opponents in Group C are Nicaragua on Sunday in Oakland, Panama on July 9 in Houston and Guadeloupe on July 12 in Phoenix.

The tournament opens tonight at the Home Depot Center in Carson, where Canada plays Jamaica at 5 p.m. and Costa Rica plays El Salvador at 7 p.m. in Group A.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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