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If I said it once, I said it *checks Gold Cup score lines* five times. The U.S. closed out the Gold Cup against Mexico by way of yet another 1-0 victory. Even though it wasn’t always pretty, the trophy celebration is all that anyone around the U.S. Soccer program will remember.
That Gold Cup victory means that twice in less than two months, Mexico was a bystander as the Americans were hoisting a trophy. Mexico was supposed to win this game due to their inherent experience on the roster, but the heart and fight that the young U.S. squad displayed was unmatched. Two perennial powers in CONCACAF played their tails off for the last month, neither squad trailing the whole tournament, except when Miles Robinson put the U.S. ahead on the 117th minute header.
Who Earned Their Stripes?
Without a doubt, Robinson far more than earned his stripes. In my primer for the Gold Cup, I tabbed him as the defender with the most to gain, and possibly the highest ceiling. Let’s just say I’m relieved because he went above and beyond the expectations, playing every single minute of the Gold Cup and banging in the dagger.
Another player that rightfully earned his place was Kellyn Acosta. I’ve long questioned his place amongst the squad, but what I saw Sunday night on the defensive end was incredible. Yes, he had multiple moments with careless giveaways, but Acosta’s relentless effort in the back half against Mexico was the best I’ve ever seen him play.
He comes off the wrong way to some people, me being one of them, with how he always has to get involved in every conflict. However, it can’t be understated that he really let his play do the talking. If he comes out and plays like that every night, I have no problem with him being in World Cup qualifiers.
There’s plenty of other players that earned their stripes, especially goalie Matt Turner, and deserve an opportunity to play meaningful minutes in the United States’ quest back to the World Cup. The one that really stood out to me was James Sands. He was Robinson’s partner in crime as the center-back tandem for most of the tournament.
Walker Zimmerman was supposed to be the guy that directed traffic in the back line for the Americans, but his early Gold Cup injury prevented his return. The inexperienced Sands played like a well-seasoned veteran, cycling the ball around well and wearing shots when possible. The work that he and Robinson put in to help Turner in net, allowing zero goals outside of a penalty kick, was absolutely admirable.
The World, Not Just CONCACAF, Taking Notice
The future is undoubtedly bright for the United States. Even though this was considered the “B or C Team” by many accounts, there’s an argument that it could easily be a 1-A. In my opinion, this is the best defending squad I’ve seen from the U.S. in a long time.
For instance, this almost exact same Mexico squad put up two goals on the Americans in the CONCACAF Nations League game back in June. This defensive unit composed of Sands and Robinson in the center, then George Bello and Reggie Cannon on the outside took on every challenge. Their two subs on the outside, Shaq Moore and Sam Vines, performed well when they came onto the pitch, just as they did all tournament.
What I’m getting at here is if manager Gregg Berhalter can find the right mix of guys going forward, the U.S. will coast into the World Cup. Imagine the attacking play of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna, going along with an impenetrable wall in the backend. That trio put up three goals against Mexico: it would be tough to beat.
The United States is no longer the laughing stock that missed the 2018 World Cup. They hold all the cards right now in CONCACAF. I would even go as far to argue that they could challenge Brazil and Argentina for the Western Hemisphere.
That may be looking too far ahead though, so for time’s sake, they just need to focus on qualifying in their own federation. That journey starts on September 2nd, as the U.S. play their first three of 14 qualifying matches. They start with El Salvador, then roll to Canada and Honduras.
No reason that after the Honduras game on September 8th, that they aren’t sitting there with three wins and nine points under their belts. Even if they draw against Canada, those seven points would be a great start.