The US beat Mexico in the Gold Cup final, but what else happened in this tournament?
The Gold Cup is over, and after a tumultuous 120-minute battle in Las Vegas on Sunday night, Gregg Berhalter’s United States team walked away deserving winners over Mexico, making it two trophies out of two attempts this summer over their neighbors, having won the CONCACAF Nations League in early June.
– Carlisle: The USMNT’s Gold Cup triumph will be remembered for a long time – Report: USMNT defeats Mexico in extra time to win Gold Cup – CONCACAF Gold Cup bracket and results
With the trophy in hand, the confetti swept away, and the players returning to their club teams around the world, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Eric Gomez, and Kyle Bonagura reflect on the tournament’s highs and lows, and wonder if it’s no longer just a competition for the United States and Mexico to dominate.
Jump to: Most important takeaway | Who is challenging the United States and Mexico? | Biggest surprise or disappointment | Standout players
What was the most important takeaway from the competition?
The United States came out on top in the Gold Cup, and perhaps more impressive than the title was the emergence of many players who have shown they belong in World Cup qualification, which starts in September. Getty Images/AFP/FREDERIC J. BROWN
Carlisle, Jeff: The player pool in the United States is larger than previously believed. There were many doubts regarding specific positions coming into the tournament, and although some remain unanswered (for example, who would be the starting striker), many were addressed. Miles Robinson seems to be a center-back who can make a significant contribution. Kellyn Acosta is a capable defensive midfield backup for Tyler Adams, and given Adams’ injury problems, he may be called upon to play. Matt Turner, the goalkeeper, can also give Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath a fight for their money between the pipes.
Berhalter also has the benefit of being able to find players who can thrive in “supersub” positions, whether it’s a midfielder like Cristian Roldan or an outside-back like Shaq Moore. All of this presents Berhalter with a selection conundrum when it comes to selecting a squad for World Cup qualifying, which starts in September, but he now has a lot more choices than he had before, which is a good thing.
Gomez, Eric: The generational divide will become a major discussion topic in both the United States and Mexico in the coming weeks and months.
After their outstanding performances, many of Gregg Berhalter’s young champions, such as Matthew Hoppe, Robinson, and Turner, are expected to be included in the USMNT World Cup qualifying rotation. On the other hand, Mexico supporters can only gaze longingly at the under-23 squad that is doing so well in Tokyo. They’ll rightly ponder what would have happened if the Olympic team had played instead of the sleepy, elderly bunch that dominated the Gold Cup.
Moving ahead, it seems that this summer functioned as a lengthy tryout for qualifiers for both teams. The US will relish the opportunity to add to their stable of youthful talents, while Mexico will rush to replace parts of an aging core.
Kyle Bonagura: From an American perspective, the whole purpose of the roster building was to find players who could play roles throughout World Cup qualifying, and goalkeeper Turner not only proved he’s capable of being depended on, but he also made a strong case to be the No. 1 goalie. Other players increased their stock as well, but given the nature of the position (only one player plays), Turner’s performance has the greatest potential to influence a first-choice starting XI.
Steffen has been regarded as the team’s undisputed starter for some time, but after Horvath’s heroics in the Nations League final and Turner’s dominance in the Gold Cup — the New England Revolution goalkeeper didn’t allow a single goal against the run of play in six games — Steffen’s place in the starting lineup should no longer be taken for granted. Especially because, by the time qualifying starts in September, Steffen will very certainly still be a backup at Manchester City, while Turner (and perhaps Horvath) would have seen regular playing time.
Is anybody going to stand up to the United States and Mexico in the future?
Canada has shown that they are a true third power on the continent; one has to question whether they might have made it to the final with a full team. Getty Images/Omar Vega
Carlisle: Canada seems to be the side most positioned to challenge the hegemony of the United States and Mexico. When the Reds beat the United States at home in the CONCACAF Nations League, they had already established a name for themselves. Then they proceeded to the Gold Cup without two of their top players (Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David), and were further weakened when striker Ayo Akinola tore his ACL. Despite this, Canada pushed Mexico and the United States to their limits, losing both games by a single goal.
Tajon Buchanan was already proving to be a tremendous talent for the New England Revolution at the club level. Now he’s doing the same thing on a global scale. Stephen Eustaquio was also impressive. When Canada’s entire squad is together, it may be a dangerous opponent.
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Canada is already there, according to Gomez. Canada, like Mexico and the United States Men’s National Team, was missing many key players for the Gold Cup. They did, however, demonstrate they’re deeper than ever and have an enthralling bunch of young talent — Buchanan was a revelation and deservedly won the tournament’s Best Young Player title — who will try to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986.
Meanwhile, Central America is undergoing a transition, providing an intriguing glimpse into what is to come in World Cup qualifying. Costa Rica, Panama, and Honduras have all lost ground, but El Salvador has been a pleasant surprise under manager Hugo Perez. Aside from the three North American nations, La Selecta will compete for a playoff place with Jamaica and make life tough for every opponent they face.
Bonagura: Despite the absence of two of its top players, Canada proceeded to the semifinals, where it had a chance to defeat Mexico before falling in the closing seconds. So, in a nutshell, the answer is yes. Canada is on the rise and will be a formidable competitor for the US and Mexico for many years to come. Canada hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1986, when it was held in Mexico, and this cycle’s goal should be to reverse that.
There is still more to be done, but this generation of Canadian players has the ability to alter the way CONCACAF and the rest of the world sees Canadian soccer.
What was the competition’s greatest surprise or disappointment?
Mexico’s campaign ended in disappointment, putting a lot of pressure on Martino and his teammates as they prepare for World Cup qualifying. Getty Images/AFP/FREDERIC J. BROWN
Carlisle: El Salvador is another squad that seems to be headed in the right way. Manager Perez, a former US international, has not only made Los Cuscatlecos more organized, but he has also encouraged them to take more chances, which they have done to excellent success. El Salvador was another squad that put not just Mexico, but also the defending Asian champions, Qatar, to the test. El Salvador will not be taken lightly when the Octagonal starts in September.
In terms of disappointment, after winning three games in their group, Costa Rica seems to be a squad stuck between eras, as they were brutally defeated by Canada in the semifinals. How long will Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz be able to bear the load? The beginning of World Cup qualification should provide us with an answer.
Gomez: Tata Martino, Tata Martino, Tata Martino, Tata Martino, Tat Mexico’s manager found himself between a rock and a hard place after losing the Nations League final against the United States in June. Martino felt pressure for the first time as El Tri manager, knowing that his player pool would be reduced when the under-23 squad competed in the Olympics.
While the United States rested all of its key players for the Gold Cup, Martino believed he wanted to field as strong a squad as could to make up for his previous defeat and avoid additional tiredness. The outcome was expected. The Gold Cup is already as close to a zero-sum game as it gets for Mexico, and when Hirving Lozano suffered an injury in the tournament’s first game, even more pressure was put on the Argentine coach to deliver a trophy, which never materialized.
Bonagura: Costa Rica may have won its group 3-0, but at no time throughout the tournament did it seem to be a squad capable of making a serious run in the knockout rounds. By no means was the 2-0 defeat to Canada in the quarterfinals a shock.
Part of Costa Rica’s lackluster performance may certainly be attributed to the fact that the team was introduced to a new coach with little time to prepare, but looking at the aging squad, it’s difficult to see many reasons to expect things to change substantially in qualifying. This is a nation that made it to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014 but is now a ghost of its former self.
That was the player who made the most impression on you?
Miles Robinson put on a show in the Gold Cup that showcased his skills. Getty Images/Patrick T. Fallon
Miles Robinson, Carlisle. The American center-back should have been awarded tournament player of the year. (Instead, Hector Herrera of Mexico received the award.) Robinson was dominating in every game, putting out continuous flames and providing calmness on the ball, not that it matters to him since he’ll happily settle with being a member of the Gold Cup title squad.
Robinson even shown his ability to carry the ball forward into the attack in the final. And he was a key member of a US defense that allowed just one goal during the tournament, a penalty kick.
Will it be enough to get into the starting lineup for the United States? Alongside John Brooks, there is a vacant spot, and Robinson’s movement may make him an excellent substitute for Aaron Long, who is injured. However, there is competition, and Mark McKenzie and Matt Miazga will not give up without a fight, but Robinson’s rise was the most encouraging development for the United States at the Gold Cup.
While Canada’s Buchanan shone during the Gold Cup, Qatar’s Almoez Ali maintained his successful run with his national team, raising many eyebrows in the process.
The 24-year-old attacker earned the Golden Boot award for the tournament, displaying a combination of pace and technique that captivated spectators and irritated defenders. Ali is the first player to earn top scorer honors at both the Asian Cup and CONCACAF’s premier national team tournament.
Finally, it would be an obvious mistake not to include Turner’s outstanding goalkeeping throughout the Americans’ championship run. The New England Revolution player seemed unstoppable, especially in the knockout rounds. In any game when Manchester City’s Steffen is unavailable, he’ll be at the top of Berhalter’s list.
Bonagura: Putting Turner aside, I believe Matthew Hoppe and Robinson are two guys who have pushed their way into the United States’ World Cup qualification discussion. Robinson deserved Player of the Tournament accolades because he is the kind of player we see in MLS on a daily basis, and Berhalter is certainly confident that he can put him next to Brooks after the past month.
With this in mind, I was even more amazed by Hoppe. Not because he was more influential than Robinson, but because we got to see a side of him that didn’t have a chance to shine at Schalke on a daily basis. While making through in the Bundesliga as a 19-year-old was remarkable, it was difficult to gauge how he could fit into the USMNT since Schalke was really awful. Their failure to consistently advance the ball made him obsolete more often than not.
Hoppe’s confidence and desire to take on opponents shone out in the Gold Cup, and he’s earned a place this autumn.