The theme for the US throughout most of this Gold Cup was that they needed to start playing much better if they wanted to win the whole thing. Well, the competition got tougher in the semi-finals and the US played their best game of the tournament, defeating Costa Rica 2-0 to advance to a record 10th Gold Cup final. But their opponent in this Gold Cup final is not who it was supposed to be. Every Gold Cup final is supposed to be USA vs. Mexico (or at least that’s what the suits at CONCACAF and the TV execs hope for). Instead, Mexico fell to Jamaica in their semi-final so the US gets a shot a redemption while Jamaica gets another crack at a Gold Cup title.
When the games really started to matter, the US started playing better. It should be said that once the old regulars were added into the squad that the performance level was only going to go up but there were a few questions marks still hanging around after the quarter-final game against El Salvador. Even through the first half of the semi-final against Costa Rica there was a little doubt and anxiety as the US dominated possession but couldn’t put their chances away (the best chance coming just 10 seconds in with Jordan Morris smacking one off the post). But that’s when the aforementioned regulars stepped up. Jozy Altidore finally scored a goal that mattered (even when he does score in competitive games it’s usually once the matter has been decided) to put the US up 1-0 off a beautiful feed from Clint Dempsey who then scored a great free kick to make it 2-0 and seal the deal. In addition to Altidore and Dempsey being good, Tim Howard made a number of smart saves to keep it 0-0 in the early going.
At the end of the day what matters right now is getting results and winning the Gold Cup, but perhaps this tournament has raised more questions than it answered. Bruce Arena started the tournament with “B” team guys and while the US finished first in the group, it was not entirely convincing and with the possible exceptions of Dom Dwyer and Kelyn Rowe, nobody really distinguished themselves leading to the veterans like Altidore, Dempsey and Bradley being called in. The question now is what happens when the US can no longer rely on these guys?