The U.S. men’s soccer team is back on track.
Two years after a shocking 2-1 defeat to Jamaica in the 2015 Gold Cup semifinals, the Americans got revenge with a 2-1 win of their own, this time in the 2017 Gold Cup final.
Jordan Morris scored the winner for the U.S. team in the 88th minute Wednesday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
With the Gold Cup — the every-other-year championship for North America, Central America and the Caribbean — now in the review mirror, the U.S. team turns it attention back to qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
As the team looks ahead to its next World Cup qualifier — against Costa Rica Sept. 1 in New Jersey — and beyond, here are five takeaways from the team’s Gold Cup performance.
U.S. Gets A Good Look At Roster Options
U.S. head coach Bruce Arena used this Gold Cup as a way to evaluate his roster heading into next summer’s World Cup, which the team is in strong position to qualify for. Arena left all of his European-based players off his roster and only called in reinforcements — Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe and Jozy Altidore — after the team’s three group-stage games.
With many players already a lock for next summer’s World Cup squad, Arena got a chance to see players who will be competing for the final spots on the 23-man roster. Every non-goalkeeper on the U.S. Gold Cup roster started at least one game, and three different goalkeepers played in the tournament. Regardless of the outcome on the field, the Gold Cup was a success from a player evaluation standpoint
Clint Dempsey Is Still A Factor
It took just minutes into the U.S. team’s semifinal game against Costa Rica for the Seattle Sounders’ attacker to show what he’s still capable of doing. The 34-year-old Dempsey came off the bench in the second half with the game tied at 0-0. Within minutes, he assisted Altidore’s opening goal with a clever turn and perfect pass. And just 10 minutes after that, Dempsey scored on a free kick to make it 2-0 — and tie the all-time U.S. men’s scoring record in the process.
It’s become clear that barring injury, Dempsey will be in Russia next summer for his fourth World Cup. Dempsey’s new role as a late-game attacking option could pay off in a big way for the U.S. moving forward.
Young Players Emerge
Arena has to be encouraged the progress made by a few of his younger players in this tournament. There were significant gains made, especially by four 22-year-olds: Matt Miazga, Jordan Morris, Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola.
Acosta and Arriola each played in five of the team’s six Gold Cup matches and started both the semifinal and final. Miazga played only one game, but he was steady at center back and scored a vital third goal to clinch first place in the team’s preliminary group in a 3-0 win over Nicaragua. Morris, of course, scored the dramatic Gold Cup winner in the final, but he also notched two goals against Martinique and tied for the tournament lead with three goals.
Jozy Altidore Earns Redemption
Altidore has been one of the U.S. men’s national team’s most important players for almost a decade, but he has suffered through some horrible injury luck in recent years. The striker missed out entirely or was limited by injury at the team’s last four international tournaments: the 2013 Gold Cup, the 2014 World Cup, the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
At the 2017 Gold Cup, the 27-year-old Altidore showed what a difference he can make when he’s healthy. The Toronto FC striker scored the winner in the semifinal against Costa Rica before opening the scoring in the final against Jamaica with a sensational free kick. The U.S. can only hope that Altdore’s awful run of injury luck is now in the past.
Arena Shows He Was Right Man For The Job
The U.S. fired manager Jurgen Klinsmann in November following a disastrous two-loss start to World Cup qualifying. Arena, who coached the U.S. at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, was brought in as a steadying influence who was familiar with the program and could right the ship.
So far, Arena has been as advertised. The former Los Angeles Galaxy coach has set a national team record for the best start to a coaching tenure (9-0-5), and has still yet to taste defeat in his second stint as U.S. boss. The U.S. struggled a bit to begin the Gold Cup, but picked up momentum as the tournament went on and fully deserved its title.
Seth Vertelney is the Washington, D.C.-based deputy editor for Goal.com and has covered soccer as a freelancer for various publications. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.