Landon Donovan has warned his United States teammates that anything less than victory in this month's CONCACAF Gold Cup would be "unacceptable" and a significant blow to the national team's pride and momentum.
Donovan missed last Saturday's friendly defeat to Spain because of illness, but he will return for Tuesday's clash with Canada in Detroit as the Americans begin their campaign at Ford Field. The tournament is expected to be a fight between defending champion Mexico and host USA, with Costa Rica and Honduras also capable of upsetting the established order.
However, Donovan told Yahoo! Sports recently that he expects victory in the final at the Rose Bowl on June 25 and that Bob Bradley's Americans should refuse to accept any other outcome.
"We want to win every time we go out onto the field," Donovan said. "But of course it is important to us, we want to be seen as the best team in this region and it is our responsibility to go and prove it.
"We will be at home, and we should be going to win the tournament. You have to set high standards for yourself and there is no reason why we should accept anything less than the ultimate goal. We have had success in the tournament before and we will be hungry for that again."
A depleted USA team lost 5-0 to Mexico in the final two years ago, but even the most ardent Mexican fan would admit that result was not indicative of the relative strength of the two teams. Having just finishing its dramatic run to the Confederations Cup final, the American side was without all of its star players, and relied on a squad primarily comprised of homegrown MLS members.
The last time a Gold Cup was played at full strength was in 2007, when Benny Feilhaber's dramatic winner propelled Bradley's men to a 2-1 victory over Mexico in the final at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Bradley is hoping to build some momentum, now a year removed from the team's World Cup campaign, which brought the glorious high of topping Group C thanks to Donovan's last-minute heroics against Algeria, before a disappointing loss to Ghana in the round of 16.
A Gold Cup group containing Canada, Panama and Guadeloupe should pose few problems and even before the team's first game most fans would admit to already casting one eye to a potential final against Mexico.
Saturday's crushing 4-0 loss to world champion Spain was far from being ideal preparation for the U.S., but veteran Clint Dempsey insisted the squad has regrouped well.
"It was a little kick up the backside," Dempsey said. "Even though it was a friendly you never want to lose a game, especially by four goals. Everybody is going to be fired up for this first game and making sure we take care of business.
"We know it is going to be a tough tournament but we want to do well and we want to win it."
The USA is the top-ranked nation in CONCACAF at No. 22, with the Mexicans just behind in 28th. Canada is down at No. 76 and has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986, although the visitors may be boosted by strong support from over the border with thousands of fans expected to make the trip to Detroit.
- Landon Donovan
- CONCACAF Gold Cup
- Bob Bradley