USMNT fails to impress at Gold Cup
By ADAM CURTIS
College Contributor Network
Sadly, all that momentum came to a screeching halt in a tournament that many predicted the USA to win.
In the group stages, the U.S. failed to impress, even though it defeated Honduras and Haiti while tying Panama. All three games were close, which was a cause for concern, but the team still finished atop their group. Its rival, Mexico, had also put on mediocre performances up to that point, so nobody was panicking just yet.
Jürgen Klinsmann, the manager of the U.S. squad, made a somewhat controversial lineup choice in starting Ventura Alvarado at center back, pairing him with John Brooks. During the World Cup, the team had success with the center back pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, but Klinsmann had continuously praised Alvarado and talked about how high a ceiling he had. Throughout the tournament, Alvarado looked out of place on the field, getting exposed on a consistent basis.
Another player who underperformed was striker Jozy Altidore, who failed to put a ball into the back of the net in any of the three group stage matches. The eight countries that qualified for the knockout stages were able to make up to six changes to their 23-man rosters, so Klinsmann sent Altidore home early and brought in another forward, Alan Gordon, in his place. Klinsmann made other moves, but they were not as surprising or controversial.
In the quarterfinals, the USMNT dismantled a depleted Cuban team 6-0. While Cuba got outplayed in every aspect of the game, it defied all odds by even getting past the group stages, with players (and coaches) missing due to visa issues or, in one case, because the player defected. After this match, all was well and good for the U.S. squad, or so everyone thought. In the semifinals, it was set to play Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz were not highly thought of when they entered this tournament. After getting a guest invite to the Copa América, South America's version of the Gold Cup, they came away with zero points, failing to score even a single goal.
That squad was, for the most part, the same squad that was fielded in the Gold Cup, but the team started to turn heads when they tied Costa Rica 2-2 in their first match in the group stages of the Gold Cup. Led by forward Giles Barnes, this team felt very confident going into the match against the U.S. and it showed, as they looked like the better team for the entire first half before taking their foot off the pedal once they had a comfortable lead in the second half. In one of the biggest upsets in recent memory for U.S. soccer, Jamaica came out with a 2-1 victory.
The club's lone goal came from forward Clint Dempsey, one of the few players who shined throughout the tournament, and who was awarded the Golden Boot as the tournament's highest goal scorer, with seven goals in seven games. Another bright spot was goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who was starting his first tournament since Tim Howard, the team's previous starting goalkeeper and hero of the World Cup, announced he was taking time off from the national team. Guzan needed a good showing at the tournament to solidify his place as the team's number one keeper, and the fact that he won the Golden Glove award shows just how well he played.
In the third-place match, the U.S. was matched up against Panama, a team that many believe was robbed by a poor penalty call in its previous game against Mexico. In a game neither team wanted to be in, Panama came out the victors, winning in a penalty shootout. To add insult to injury, U.S. legend DaMarcus Beasley came out retirement from the national team in order to play one final tournament. It was the fullback Beasley who missed the final penalty kick that gave Panama the bronze medal in the Gold Cup. Given its unfair loss to Mexico, Panama could hold its heads high, having not lost a game in the whole tournament in their eyes. Mexico would go on to beat Jamaica 3-1 in the finals, a game where Mexico was clearly too much for Jamaica to handle.
The U.S. will be under a lot of pressure after its poor showing in the Gold Cup, and while many people were calling for Klinsmann's head, Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, backed up Klinsmann, saying his job was safe for the time being.
U.S. soccer will likely want to forget this tournament ever happened, but maybe it was good for the bunch to be humbled, not getting too smug and realizing that the squad is nowhere near the level of the world's top countries. Now its focus shifts to Mexico, whom the team faces on October 9 at the Rose Bowl in a playoff game to decide which team will qualify for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Adam Curtis is a rising sophomore at American University. Growing up, he played soccer and tennis and is a die-hard D.C. sports fan. Follow him on Twitter: @actennis96