Wow lots of news this week – the US ladies lose to Canada then claim the Bronze as Canada go on to beat Sweden in PKs to take the gold in the Olympics, the US Men’s B/C team beats Mexico’s A team 1-0 in the Gold Cup to win back to back trophies vs Mexico for the 1st time in a decade, and Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona after 21 years with the club. Oh and the French League starts this weekend with America’s Weah playing for French champion Lyon Saturday 11 am on beIN Sport. The EPL season kicks off next weekend – but Leicester City will face Man City in the Community Shield this Saturday at 12 noon on ESPN+, and Christian Pulisic and Champions League Champs Chelsea will face Europa Champ Villiareal Wed at 3 pm in the SuperCup on CBSSN. Honestly I am not ready for the European Season to kickoff – as I recover from this full summer of soccer but I guess I will be ready by next week.
US Men Win Gold Cup vs Mexico (2nd straight Trophy vs El Tri)
The US Men upset Mexico last weekend in the Gold Cup Final – 1-0 as the US B/C team found a way past Mexico’s A team. It was truly a gritty performance as the US youthful defense and Goalkeeper of the tourney Matt Turner shut out El Tri’s offense. Centerback Miles Robinson put in a Player of the Game Performance as he made save after save after save on defense before finally heading in the 117th minute winning goal in ET. And of course Kellen Acosta at the #6 as his performance vs Mexico – might have been the best dmid performace for the US in years. For American head coach Gregg Berhalter its time to give him the credit for what he is putting together. The US Men with our European starters like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKinney, Adams, Steffan and took the youngest team to the nations league final and beat Mexico 2-1 last month when Pulisic buried his PK in the last 5 mintutes. Now with only 1 starter from that weekend starting in the Gold Cup final – a team that was the youngest we have ever fielded for a major tournament that did it again with an impressive 1-0 win late in extra time. Now just to confirm – this team only included 3 players who were on that roster from the nations league – in fact this was for the most part a MLS only squad – as defenders like Atlanta’s Miles Robinson, NYCs James Sands, Colorado’s Sam Vines and Shaq Moore laid claim to more playing time moving forward as they held the youngest backline to play a tourney in a while thru-out the Gold Cup. After all the pain from not qualifying for the World Cup in 2018 – its plain to see the US Men’s National Team is Back. With a former national team player at the helm – Coach Berhalter has turned things around for this US team. He’s giving over 50 players a run – and is building both a group and a program that is on the verge of taking over CONCACAF once again. Not since the Donovan/Beasley/Dempsey days when the US ran off dos a cero wins over our neighbors to the south has the US been the best team in our Region. But after this past 6 weeks of results – its plain to see that the US Men might well be back on track to make that claim – 2 trophies back to back – something no other US men’s team has done. So cudos coach – I have often questioned the line-ups and sometimes the formations – but there is no doubt the US is on the right track!! So who moved themselves up the list to be considered when World Cup Qualification starts labor day weekend? I think Miles Robinson moves into the starting line-up with John Brooks on the back line – his speed and anticipation a perfect compliment to a bigger yet much slower John Brooks. I think Sam Vines makes roster on the left side and give Antonee Robinson of Fulham competition. Not sure Shaq Moore or James Sands on the back line will quite make the next camp – but they are truly players to watch moving forward. Staying in the back – Matt Turner proved this Gold Cup that he deserves a serious look at the #1 Gloves over Steffan. Turner made some saves this tourney that Steffan simply doesn’t make. It will be interesting to see – but Turner is certainly now solidified in the top 3 at GK with Zach Steffan at Man City and Ethan Horvath now at Nottingham’s Forrest. Assuming neither of our European based GKs can earn starting slots – Turner – who goes 90 every game for New England – might just be our best bet in tough matches.
Moving up the field – Kellyn Acosta – finally showed during the knock out rounds and vs Mexico that he can hold down the Dmid #6 slot if Adams is injured. Jackson Yueill proved this is simply over his head and 17 year old Gianluca Busio showed he has potential in the future – but is not ready yet. (He just signed to play in Italy – so lets follow that progress). I thought Eryk Williamson of Portland was also solid in the final vs Mexico – I love that he attacked the goal and constantly went forward rather than backwards. We’ll see if that gets him more time. Of course Roldan solidified his spot with multiple assists this tourney as a super sub. I thought Arriola and Lletget were just average but – you know Lletget is always going to start for coach – so go figure. Up front I thought Matthew Hoppe was the biggest winner – as his play at the wing spot – (he’s an underneath forward for Schalke) was impressive. He really reminds me of a mix of Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey. He was my man crush this tourney – and I can’t wait to see him maybe get a shot at the #9 slot eventually. Speaking of the #9 – we all hoped Dike would claim the spot this Gold Cup – but in the end he showed he’s just not ready yet. He’s still young – 1 year as a pro and has a lot to learn still – but his hold up ability, his strength in the box, knowledge of proper passing and movement –were simply not there. He’s no Altidore. Heck Zardes proved he’s still in the running as well. Giochinni had some fine moments – including the game winning assist to Zardes vs a very good Qatar team – but he’s also just not there to be a #9 just yet. He certainly hustles as much as anyone on the field. I suspect it will be Josh Stewart up front but I am sure excited to see a battle in that slot. Overall it’s a really exciting time to be a US Soccer fan. The men’s team is Back – just 1 month until World Cup Qualifying starts – and what I think will be a quarterfinals run in the next World Cup. The Golden Generation has arrived!
Full USMNT roster for 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
Defenders (8): George Bello (Atlanta United), Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Shaq Moore (Tenerife), Donovan Pines (D.C. United), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), James Sands (New York City FC), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids),
Midfielders (6): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards (6): Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Daryl Dike (Orlando City), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen), Matthew Hoppe (Schalke), Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
US edges Australia 4-3 in Bronze Medal Game
So the US ladies bounced back from their horrific loss to Canada by finally finding some offense in a 4-3 win over Australia. Coach A started Rapinoe, Press and Lloyd up front and they rewarded him with 2 goals each by Lloyd and Rapinoe. It was the first start for Rapinoe – and just like I said why she should have started all along – she scored and with humph. Her galicto from the corner spot was spectacular but not better than her off the volley strike from the top of the box on a miss clear by the kiwis. Its because she’s a big game player that I thought she should start the big games – coach A may have well loss the Gold Medal because he didn’t start her on that wing for the big games. Anyway – happy to see the US win the Bronze at least. No small feat – though this team was good enough to win the Gold and they know it. Interesting times ahead as the average age of this team was like 29 years old. This might be the last we see of Rapinoe, Lloyd, Heath, Saubruan, maybe even Alex Morgan who was 2 full steps behind this tourney. Its time to start working in more kids – the question is will Coach A be around to start that movement? I thought he was thoroughly outcoached this tournament – utterly unprepared for the Sweden debacle and not much better vs Canada or Australia. I don’t know who else they would turn to with just 2 years until the next World Cup. But the rest of the World is getting better – the US – We are getting older.
Congrats to Canada on the Gold Medal win – Carmel FC coaches Tom Baker and Carla Baker are Canadian and Coach Carla is a Canadian Hall of Fame Goalkeeper – so thrilled for them!!
GAMES ON TV
Saturday, Aug 7
7:30 am Men’s Olympic Finals – Brazil vs Spain (NBCSN)
9:30 am Beach Soccer – USA vs Japan (USA Network)
11 am Lyon (Weah) vs Brest French League 1 (beIN Sport)
12 noon Leicester City vs Man City Community Shield (ESPN+)
Sunday, Aug 8
8:30 am Fulham (Ream, Robinson) vs Middlesbrough ESPN+
11:30 am Coventry vs Nottingham Forest (Horvath) ESPN+
12:30 pm Real Madrid vs Milan ESPN
3:30 pm Barcelona vs Juventus (ESPN+)
7:30 pm Indy 11 @ Atlanta United ESPN+
Wednesday, Aug 11
3 pm Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Villarreal CBSSN
Friday, Aug 13
2:30 pm Mgladbach vs Bayern Munich Germany ESPN+
3 pm Brentford vs Arsenal NBCSN
Saturday, Aug 14 EPL Kickoff
7:30 am Man United vs Leeds United NBCSN
10 am Liecester City vs Wolverhampton NBCSN
10 am Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Crystal Palace Peacock
12:30 Norwich vs Liverpool NBCSN
12:30 Dortmund (Reyna) vs Frankfort ESPN+ .
7 pm Indy 11 vs OKC home ESPN+
Canada’s longtime goalkeeper dominated penalty kicks and sudden death to win gold in her final major tournament
Julia Grosso’s Penalty Kick Gives Canada its First Gold Medal in Women’s Soccer
Barcelona announces Lionel Messi will leave club; reported 5-year deal didn’t get done
Report: USMNT’s Josh Sargent close to completing Norwich move
Sergino Dest turns down multiple big money offers – report
USWNT reasons for Olympic struggles: Rating impact of roster age, rotation, tactics, no crowds and more
Aug 4, 2021Caitlin Murray ESPNFC
Why has the No. 1-ranked U.S. women’s national team struggled so much at the Tokyo Olympics? Not even the players and staff seem to know.
“I don’t know,” Carli Lloyd said after the USWNT’s 1-0 upset loss to Canada in the semifinal. “I don’t know in this moment. It happens, you know? You can’t win them all.”
Coach Vlatko Andonovski was at a similar loss on Monday, telling reporters, “I don’t really know,” before adding: “I guess we’re going to have to go back and dig a little deeper and find out what is it that didn’t go the way we wanted.” Without any clear-cut explanations for why a team that dominated its way through a World Cup two years ago suddenly looked so disjointed and ineffective at the Tokyo Olympics, plenty of outside theories have floated around.Here is a look at some of the top theories and our ratings (10=super likely, 1=unlikely) of how likely it is that each actually contributed to the USWNT’s loss:
The USWNT’s roster was too old: 5/10
It’s easy to look at the average age of the USWNT’s roster at the Olympics and point to that as the problem. All of the USWNT’s primary attackers are over the age of 30, except Lynn Williams, who is 28. The USWNT’s two biggest clutch players, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe, who were heroes in previous tournaments, are 39 and 36, respectively, and both are clearly a step slower than they once were.But there’s other important context. First, being the oldest team in a tournament hasn’t hurt the USWNT before. The USWNT had the oldest squads at both the 2015 World Cup and the 2019 World Cup, and they won both. It’s lazy to say that a team isn’t good just because it’s old.More importantly, the USWNT’s problem in Japan wasn’t its older players. Did Lloyd and Rapinoe have good tournaments? No. But how do you explain, for instance, the uncharacteristic struggles of Samantha Mewis, the 28-year-old central midfielder who many analysts have considered to be the best player in the world?–
Basic execution of the soccer fundamentals — like dribbling and passing — was sloppy, and that happened all the way up and down the roster. As Rapinoe — the most honest and blunt player on the team — said after the tournament-opening Sweden loss, the U.S. was “doing dumb stuff, like not passing the ball, not trapping the ball.” After the loss to Canada, her assessment was nearly the same: “Too many errors from us, again. The space was there for us to play in, and we just couldn’t get into it — too many touches or an errant touch.”To be fair, the Olympics is a particularly grueling tournament because of how few rest days the IOC gives players between games. Having some younger players to take on more minutes and workload could have helped, but with more substitutions available than normal, Andonovski went out of his way to rest his players as much as possible. As Alex Morgan said, the USWNT had the freshest players in the tournament due to the rotations.Still, Andonovski may have found some benefit in bringing more younger players to the tournament — and then actually playing them — but it would’ve been less about their age than… (onto the next category…)
The selected players were too complacent: 7/10
When a team has won a World Cup in the unrelenting fashion the USWNT did in France in 2019, it would be tempting for any new coach to run it back. Andonovski already knew these players could succeed together in the pressure cooker of a major tournament, but what the USWNT seemed to lack more than pure fitness was desire.The players, of course, will tell you they wanted it. The veterans wanted to go out on top as they (likely) end their careers. The younger players wanted to win their first medal in an Olympics. Yet it’s hard not to notice that the one field player who had a standout performance in the entire tournament was Lynn Williams, who notched a goal and an assist against the Netherlands.Williams is playing in her first major tournament, one of the only players on the entire roster to do so. Under both Andonovski and previous coach Jill Ellis, Williams has not been the USWNT’s best attacking player — there’s a reason why she didn’t make any tournament rosters under Ellis and why she originally made the Olympic roster as an alternate — and yet she played in Japan like she had a lot more to prove than anyone else.That also raises the question of why a player like Catarina Macario didn’t have the chance to play a bigger role in the tournament, even as a substitute. She’s talented and has proved herself to be capable of competing at the highest level, but she was only named to one matchday squad (the 6-1 win over New Zealand). If Andonovski had told her he trusted her to take over a game and do her thing, could she have helped unlock an opponent like Canada, which wasn’t committing to attacking in that fateful semifinal? We’ll never know.With the Olympics being pushed back a year, Andonovski arguably had the time to break away from merely copying-and-pasting the World Cup roster and finding some players hungry to make their mark. At a minimum, it would’ve pushed the veterans harder as they fought to keep their spots going into the tournament, but it could’ve yielded some more dynamic options for Tokyo.
Andonovski rotated the starting line-ups too much: 10/10
In any tournament where a bunch of games are packed into a short period of time, a coach has one of two ways to approach it: consistency for the sake of chemistry, or rotation to keep the players fresh for each game. Andonovski clearly leaned toward rotation. Perhaps he was mindful of his roster’s age, or perhaps he just knew that playing a game every three days is a lot for players of any age.Rapinoe wondered after the semifinal if rotation was a problem but then dismissed it.”It just didn’t click for us,” Rapinoe said. “I don’t know if it was just roster rotations a lot. I know it’s a tough tournament, trying to save people. But our bench is deep as hell, so I don’t think we can really put it on that. I can’t quite put my finger on it; I’ve tried, I’ve been thinking about it the whole tournament. We just didn’t have that juice that we normally do.”If the concern about rotations is a drop-off in quality, Rapinoe was right to dismiss that. The substitutes for the USWNT are as good as its starters, and the USWNT never loses individual quality by rotating players. But as a collective, that’s a different story, and the USWNT’s biggest problem in Japan has seemed to be a lack of chemistry.While we can’t see what’s happening behind the scenes to build that chemistry, we do know that there wasn’t much consistency in games. Look no further than an unprecedented nine goals called offside throughout the tournament as tangible proof that the players just weren’t on the same page.”There was a lot of rotation, so in a way I think we had the freshest legs of any team,” Alex Morgan said after the semifinal. “But [other teams] also had the consistency in the line-ups. So that’s what you have to weigh in tournament like this. It’s very different than a World Cup. There were more substitutions than there’s ever been, so it’s very different.”It’s unclear if Morgan was hinting that the higher amount of allowed substitutions meant that less rotation should have been needed; it would have been a good point, too. With five substitutes, it probably wasn’t necessary to introduce five different starting line-ups in five games. If Andonovski had stuck to more consistent starting line-ups, he could have made better use of his substitutions to make sure impactful players were coming into games, instead of just taking players off for the sake of it.
The USWNT got too distracted by its lawsuit or politics: 0/10
Anyone who claims that the USWNT struggled in Japan because they were too distracted by social justice is someone who clearly does not watch the USWNT and has never watched the USWNT. These are people who should be laughed at or ignored.The USWNT has historically been one of the most dominant teams in sports, period, and they’ve done it all while constantly fighting for better treatment and better pay. Seriously, there’s a whole book about it, but you don’t even have to look back any further than the 2019 World Cup. The USWNT filed their equal pay lawsuit only months prior, Megan Rapinoe got into a fight with Donald Trump (which he started, for some reason), and both the USWNT and Rapinoe crushed their competition.The evidence is clear: the USWNT has won more tournaments while caring about social justice than not.
The USWNT didn’t lose enough before the Olympics: 7/10
Fans of the USWNT are very accustomed to winning. So accustomed, in fact, that a single loss is enough to set off calls to fire a coach, which has created a culture where it can be difficult for coaches to experiment and take the risks that result in losses.But losses are good. Jill Ellis has said that losing games before the 2015 World Cup allowed the team to win the trophy, and she thinks the USWNT probably wouldn’t have gone as far without those losses. It’s easy to see why, too: defeats force a hard self-examination of weaknesses and shake away any feelings of complacency.– Olympics medal tracker | ScheduleComing into the Olympics, Vlatko Andonovski had never lost a game with the USWNT, and the team was riding a 44-game unbeaten streak when it arrived in Japan. Where, then, was any serious introspection going to come from? What would have prompted players to look in the mirror and dig a little deeper? It appears the answer is that those things went missing in Japan.
The lack of crowds hurt the USWNT’s mentality: 6/10
Americans will follow the USWNT anywhere. During the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, Reims, a quaint city known for its champagne production and Gothic architecture, looked like an American resort town at the start of the tournament. As soon as the USWNT left, the throngs of traveling American fans did too, following the USWNT from city to city across France. The players admitted that every match in France, except the quarterfinal against France, felt like a home game.But no Americans have followed the USWNT to Japan.Due to the pandemic, the USWNT’s games have been mostly played in empty, dead-silent stadiums. The players have insisted it’s not a big deal — they’ve gotten used to it during the pandemic. But the truth is, if fans were allowed in Japan, no other non-host team would have as much support as the USWNT. It’s hard to measure the impact of it, but ask any athlete: fans add that extra push, and for the USWNT, that extra bit of swagger to put on a show.”With it being a major tournament without fans, we know that energy and everything is gonna come from us,” Rose Lavelle said during the group stage. “It comes from every single player and staff member, so that’s something we’ve been emphasizing too.”But it clearly hasn’t worked, and there’s no substitute for a stadium of mostly USWNT fans. The lack of fans may only be one piece of the psychological difficulty of the past 16 months during the pandemic, but it’s an important piece.
The world has ‘caught up’ to the USWNT: 4/10
If the question were whether there were other teams in Japan capable of beating the USWNT, then there is a 100% probability that it was a factor in the USWNT’s loss: teams like Sweden and the Netherlands were favorites, along with the USWNT, before the tournament even started. But if the question is whether the world has “caught up,” meaning the field has been somehow significantly more difficult than in years past, that’s a lot less likely.The fact is, women’s soccer has been growing at a rapid pace for several years now, and there have been very good teams capable of beating the USWNT all along. The 2019 Women’s World Cup was easily the most difficult in history — more teams looked like title contenders than ever — and just because the USWNT won it in impressive fashion, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t tough.Sure, it’s possible the USWNT’s failure to reach the gold-medal match in Tokyo will signal a new shift in women’s soccer where the USWNT never reaches a final again. But that seems highly improbable unless the USWNT disbands tomorrow.In truth, there are several teams that can win any major tournament, and that number is indeed growing, but the USWNT reaching a final is never a given. It wasn’t a given in 2016, when the USWNT got knocked out in the quarterfinal at the Rio Olympics, and it wasn’t a given in 1995, 2003 or 2007, when the USWNT didn’t reach the finals of those World Cups either.
The USWNT’s run wasn’t actually that terrible: 5/10
Looking at the USWNT’s performances, rather than the results, is certainly disheartening. By the players’ own admissions, they looked bad, both as a collective group and as individuals. For fans, the team on the field was unrecognizable at times.But reaching the final four of a major tournament isn’t terrible, all things considered. The USWNT has only failed to get that far once in the team’s entire history, and that was at the 2016 Olympics with a loss in the quarterfinal. That arguably puts the Tokyo Olympics in line with the USWNT’s expected results.”This was my eighth tournament, and they’ve all been different,” Lloyd said after the loss to Canada. “They’ve all had a different storyline, they’ve all started and finished in a different fashion, some have been pretty, some have been ugly and some we’ve just scraped by. This one, we didn’t get by.”It’s easy to forget that the USWNT won a World Cup in 2015 playing rough soccer for most of the tournament. The first few games looked so bad that pundits and former USWNT players were questioning why coach Jill Ellis hadn’t been fired already. The USWNT grew into its later games — something this team couldn’t do in Japan — but it was far from invincible.Sometimes in past tournaments, the ball seemed to bounce the USWNT’s way, even when they weren’t playing well. The USWNT had no such luck in this go-round, and sometimes luck makes all the difference.
Gold Cup review: U.S. Men win, Mexico woe and other tournament takeaways
Aug 3, 2021ESPN
The Gold Cup is complete, and after a topsy-turvy, 120-minute battle in Las Vegas on Sunday night, Gregg Berhalter’s U.S. team walked away deserving winners over rivals Mexico and made it two trophies out of two attempts over their neighbors this summer, having won the CONCACAF Nations League at the beginning of June.
With the trophy won, the confetti swept away and the players slowly heading back to rejoin their club teams around the globe, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Eric Gomez and Kyle Bonagura reflect on the tournament’s highs and lows, as well as wondering if it’s no longer just a competition for U.S. and Mexico to dominate.
Biggest takeaway from the competition?
Jeff Carlisle: The U.S. player pool is deeper than originally thought. Heading into the tournament, there were a lot of question marks about certain positions and while a few still linger — namely who is going to claim the starting striker spot — more questions were answered. Miles Robinson looks like a player who can be a real contributor at center-back. Kellyn Acosta is a solid backup for Tyler Adams in defensive midfield and given Adams’ difficulty with injuries, could very well be called upon to play. Goalkeeper Matt Turner can give Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath a run for their money between the posts, too.
Berhalter also has the luxury of identifying players who can excel in “supersub” roles, be it a midfielder like Cristian Roldan or an outside-back like Shaq Moore. It all gives Berhalter something of a selection puzzle when it comes to naming a roster for World Cup qualifying, which begins in September, but he has many more options than he had before and that is a positive development.Eric Gomez: In the coming weeks and months, the generational shift will emerge as a huge talking point for both the United States and Mexico.
Several of Gregg Berhalter’s young champions, like Matthew Hoppe, Robinson and Turner have likely played themselves into the USMNT World Cup qualifying rotation after their stellar performances. On the other side, Mexico fans can only look on wistfully towards the under-23 team playing so well in Tokyo. They will rightfully wonder what their fortunes would have been like if the Olympic side had suited up instead of the groggy, aging group we saw throughout the Gold Cup.
Moving forward, it seems more and more like this summer served both teams as a long audition for qualifiers. The United States will revel in adding in players to their established mix of young stars, while Mexico will scramble to swap out pieces of an aging core.
Kyle Bonagura: From an American standpoint, the whole point of the roster construction was to identify players who could play roles during World Cup qualification and not only did goalkeeper Turner showcase he’s talented enough to be relied on, he made a strong case to be the No. 1 as well. Other players improved their stock, too, but because of the nature of the position — only one guy plays — it was Turner’s performance that could have the most impact on a first-choice starting XI.
Steffen has been viewed as the locked-in starter for a while now, but after Horvath came up clutch in the Nations League final and Turner’s run through the Gold Cup — the New England Revolution stopper didn’t allow a single goal from the run of play in six matches — Steffen’s standing should no longer be a given. Especially considering that when qualifying begins in September, Steffen will likely still be in a backup role at Manchester City, while Turner (and possibly Horvath) will have been getting consistent playing time.
Is anyone going to challenge the USA and Mexico moving forward?
Carlisle:Canada looks to be the team best-positioned to threaten the U.S./Mexico hegemony. The Reds had already made some noise in the CONCACAF Nations League when they defeated the U.S. at home. Then, they arrived at the Gold Cup without two of their best players (Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David) before being depleted further when forward Ayo Akinola went down with a torn ACL. And yet Canada pushed both Mexico and the U.S. to the limit, losing both matches by a single goal.Tajon Buchanan was already looking like an immense talent at the club level with the New England Revolution. Now he’s showing the same at international level. Stephen Eustaquio impressed, too. When Canada gets its full team together, it could prove formidable indeed.
Gomez: Canada is already there. As was the case with Mexico and the USMNT, Canada was without several of their biggest stars for the Gold Cup. However, they showed they’re deeper than ever and boast an electric group of young talent — Buchanan was a revelation, rightfully winning the tournament’s Best Young Player award — who will challenge to make their first World Cup since 1986.
Meanwhile, Central America is also experiencing a changing of the guard, yielding an interesting preview of what’s to come in World Cup qualifying. Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras have lost quite a bit of steam, while El Salvador was a welcome surprise under manager Hugo Perez. Beyond the three North American countries, La Selecta will challenge Jamaica for the playoff spot and make life difficult for every opponent along the way.
Bonagura: Even without its two best players, Canada advanced to the semifinal, where it had its chances to beat Mexico before losing at the death. So, the short answer is: yes. Canada is on the rise and will be a tough opponent for the United States and Mexico for years to come. Canada hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1986, in Mexico, and the expectation this cycle should be for that to change.There is lots of progress to be made, but this generation of Canadian players has the potential to change how Canadian soccer is viewed in CONCACAF and beyond.
Biggest surprise or biggest disappointment of the competition?
Carlisle: El Salvador is another team that looks like it is moving in the right direction. Manager Perez — a former U.S. international, mind you — not only has Los Cuscatlecos more organized, but taking more risks as well, and to good effect. El Salvador was another team that provided a difficult test to not only Mexico, but also reigning Asian champions, Qatar. El Salvador won’t be a pushover by any means when the Octagonal begins in September.
In terms of disappointment, while Costa Rica claimed top spot in their group with three wins, it looks like a team caught between generations, and were soundly beaten by Canada in the quarterfinals. How long can players like Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz carry the load? The start of World Cup qualifying should give us an answer.
Gomez: Tata Martino. After losing the Nations League final to the United States in June, Mexico’s manager found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. Knowing his player pool would be diminished as the under-23 team played the Olympics, Martino felt pressure for the first time in his stint as El Tri manager.Whereas the United States opted to rest all of its main talents, Martino felt he needed to bring as strong a team as he could to the Gold Cup to make up for his previous loss and risk further fatigue. The result was predictable. The Gold Cup is already as near to a zero-sum competition as there is for Mexico, and after Hirving Lozano went down with injury during the tournament’s opening game, even more pressure was mounted on the Argentine coach to deliver a trophy, which ultimately never came.Bonagura: Costa Rica might have gone 3-0 to win its group, but at no point during the tournament did it look like a team capable of making a threatening run in the knockout stages. The 2-0 loss to Canada in the quarterfinals was not an upset by any stretch.Part of Costa Rica’s uninspiring showing can probably be chalked up to introducing a new coach without any time to prepare, but it’s hard to look at the aging roster and come up with many good reasons to expect things to improve significantly in qualifying. This is a country that reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2014 and is but a shadow of what it once was.
Player who impressed you the most?
Carlisle: Miles Robinson. The U.S. center-back should have been named the player of the tournament. (That honor went to Mexico’s Hector Herrera instead.) Not that it matters that much to him as he’ll gladly settle for being part of the Gold Cup championship team, but Robinson was dominant in every game, putting out constant fires and delivering composure on the ball.In the final, Robinson even showed off his ability to carry the ball forward into the attack. And he was central to a U.S. defense that conceded but one goal — a penalty kick, at that — the entire tournament.Will it be enough to break into the U.S. starting lineup? There is an open slot alongside John Brooks, and Robinson’s mobility could make him an ideal replacement for the injured Aaron Long. There is competition as well, though, and Mark McKenzie and Matt Miazga won’t give up without a fight, but Robinson’s emergence was the most positive development for the U.S. in the Gold Cup.
Gomez: While Canada’s Buchanan was spectacular throughout the Gold Cup, Qatar’s Almoez Ali continued his prolific run with his national team, raising many eyebrows along the way.
The 24-year-old striker won the competition’s Golden Boot award and displayed a mix of speed and skill that enthralled observers and rankled defenders throughout. Ali walks away as the only player to win the top scorer award at both the Asian Cup and CONCACAF’s premier national team competition.Lastly, it would be a glaring omission not to talk about Turner’s amazing goalkeeping throughout the Americans’ title run. Especially in the knockout stages, the New England Revolution man looked unbeatable. He’ll definitely remain at the top of Berhalter’s list for any game where Manchester City’s Steffen is unavailable.Bonagura: Setting Turner aside, I think there are two players who really played their way into the United States’ World Cup qualifying conversation: Matthew Hoppe and Robinson. Robinson was deserving of Player of the Tournament honors by being the guy we see regularly in MLS and Berhalter likely comes away from the last month with confidence he can slot him next to Brooks.With that understood, I found myself more impressed by Hoppe. Not because he was more impactful than Robinson, but because we got to see a version of him that didn’t get to regularly emerge at Schalke. While breaking through as a 19-year-old in the Bundesliga was impressive, it was tough to get a good read on how he could potentially fit into the USMNT because Schalke was truly horrific. Their basic inability to progress the ball with any regularity rendered him obsolete more often than not.In the Gold Cup, Hoppe’s confidence and willingness to take people on stood out, and he’s earned a spot this fall.
Berhalter’s USMNT “C team” made the C stand for champions
By Ives Galarcep | August 2, 2021 1:00 pm ET https://platform.twitter.com/widgets/follow_button.f88235f49a156f8b4cab34c7bc1a0acc.en.html#dnt=false&id=twitter-widget-1&lang=en&screen_name=soccerbyives&show_count=false&show_screen_name=true&size=m&time=1628293730937
It didn’t matter much that we had known for months what Gregg Berhalter was planning to do with the rosters for the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup. The complaints still came when his experimental squad for the Gold Cup was unveiled.
The immediate complaint was that it made little sense to call in what was seen as a USMNT C team, especially with Mexico announcing a close to full-strength team, complete with European-based stars Hirving Lozano, Hector Herrera and Edson Alvarez.
Berhalter and the team never bought into the idea that this American team was a C team — with a B team presumably consisting of those European-based players who didn’t make the cut for Nations League and had their clubs balk at a Gold Cup call — but as it turns out it actually was a C team, only the C stands for champion.
Berhalter took a team loaded with players who had never competed in an international tournament and made them believers. He gave youngsters prominent roles and let them battle through adversity, and he convinced the veterans on the squad to buy into what he was doing.
The result was a tournament run few could have envisioned when that roster was first revealed, which was understandable because few could have seen so many players blowing away expectations.
Followers of MLS already knew Miles Robinson was a quality defender, but few were aware he had the talent to be a USMNT starter. Now they know.
Matt Turner had been the subject of plenty of buzz in MLS in recent years, but for non-MLS followers, the Gold Cup was the first chance to see a player some believe can challenge Zack Steffen for the first-choice goalkeeper role. That idea sounds far less crazy than it did a month ago.
Kellyn Acosta had already provided a tease of his impressive ability in the Nations League final, and carried that momentum into the Gold Cup, where he silenced any lingering questions about which player is the best option as Tyler Adams’ backup in the defensive midfield role.
Even fewer non-MLS followers were aware that James Sands was such a poised and technically-gifted central defender at the age of 20, and now they are aware that he is legit and a real threat to make the World Cup qualifying roster.
USMNT fans who follow Americans Abroad closely were already aware of Matthew Hoppe after his breakout season with Schalke, but the full fanbase hadn’t had a chance to see him up close, and now they know he is a legitimate and versatile attacking threat.
Those are just some of the players who fully embraced the opportunity presented by Berhalter, and rewarded him with tournaments that not only led to a trophy, and precious win against Mexico, but also leaves their coach feeling that much better about the depth of his player pool.
That as, after all, the main goal of the Gold Cup, because there is nothing more important to the USMNT program than ensuring a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, and Berhalter saw the tournament as a chance to identify and develop some new options.
That is where the ‘house money’ theme was born, because no matter what happened in Sunday’s final, Berhalter would be heading home with the knowledge he had found several players that had proven their mettle and worthiness to be included on the World Cup qualifying squad.
Berhalter wasn’t satisfied though. He believed his team had come together in a way that beating Mexico wasn’t impossible, and after leading a full-strength USMNT to a dramatic win over El Tri in June, Berhalter had detailed knowledge of Mexico’s strengths and weaknesses.
That is what led the USMNT to high-press Mexico at every opportunity, never letting El Tri get comfortable, and consistently testing Mexico’s own transition defense with consistently quick counterattacks.
Mexico still had its chances, and might have grabbed a first-half lead if not for Matt Turner’s heroics and the stellar play of Robinson and James Sands in central defense, and if not for some poor finishing by Mexico, but there was a feeling that when the halftime whistle blew one team looked rattled and one team looked energized.
Make no mistake, Mexico’s players felt the pressure of winning a final they were expected to win easily, and the pressure of doing so in a sold-out stadium where close to 90 percent of the fans in attendance were urging them on.
That it was the USMNT that kept pushing the issue late in the match and in extra time, and the Americans who finished strong despite facing a more accomplished collection of players, makes Sunday’s loss all the more bitter for Mexico and head coach Tata Martino, who has to deal with the ignominy of being the first El Tri coach to lose back-to-back finals to the United States.
While Martino suddenly finds himself no longer enjoying his honeymoon period as Mexico coach, Berhalter celebrated his birthday on Sunday with his second trophy of the summer, bragging rights over the coach some fans had wished was hired instead of him, and with another group of players riding the confidence boost that comes with winning an international trophy.
It’s a safe bet Berhalter and his team will enjoy celebrating their title in Las Vegas, before going back to their respective teams, while Berhalter prepares for his biggest challenge, qualifying for the World Cup.
Even with two trophies on the mantle, and two wins over Mexico, Berhalter knows that none of that will matter if he doesn’t lead the USMNT through a successful — and impressive — World Cup qualifying campaign.
After Sunday’s win, and after his work turning a “C team” into champions, there is a lot more reason to believe Berhalter is up to the task.