By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jul 8, 2019) US Soccer Players – In what may have been the most competitive and unpredictable Gold Cup in history, Mexico lifted the trophy on Sunday night at a sold out Soldier Field in Chicago. At the same time, the region’s teams showed a growth in talent and maturity, putting the world’s other confederations – notably Africa and Asia – on notice that they plan to be competitive at the next World Cup in three years.
This was a Gold Cup of many firsts. It was the first time matches were held in Jamaica and Costa Rica. Expanding the tournament beyond the US borders was a good thing, although the NFL stadiums that largely host games remain the envy of the sports world. It was a great dry run ahead of the 2026 World Cup that the US will co-host with Mexico and Canada. Future Gold Cups will give organizers ample time to test venues and determine which host cities would work best.
The tournament expanded by four teams to include 16 nations and none of them invitees from outside the region like Copa America. That didn’t dilute the talent level or competitiveness at this tournament. It was quite the contrary. Smaller teams rose to the occasion. Think of Haiti, the upsets by Curacao and the heart of Guyana and Martinique who put in valiant efforts to become crowd favorites.
Teams were largely at full strength. Mexico, who did not participate in the Copa America like it had the past few years, allowed for coach Tata Martino to call up his best players. Same for the region’s other heavyweights like the United States and Costa Rica, to varying degrees of success. In the case of the Central Americans, not much of it.
With the 15th edition of the Gold Cup officially in the books, here are five things we learned from this summer’s tournament:
Pulisic and McKennie
The Gold Cup runners-up saw lots of reasons to be positive following this tournament. Above all, coach Gregg Berhalter showed that he can find the right blend of veteran talent and newcomers to create a lineup competitive enough to get results. Goalkeeper Zach Steffan made a strong case as to why he should be a regular, defender Aaron Long was solid, while Michael Bradley and Paul Arriola proved adept practitioners of Berhalter’s style of playing from the back.
The attacking tandem of Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie proved as fruitful as many had anticipated. These young phenoms displayed maturity beyond their years, providing the US positive momentum heading into the 2022 World Cup cycle. Pulisic and McKennie are part of a new generation of players who have the skills and pedigree to elevate the USMNT and make them successful in the coming years.
Canada’s hopes and screams
A team that enters the Gold Cup with hopes and dreams of winning it each time saw the whole thing collapse in failure once again. Following a string of strong performances in the group stage, Canada exited in the quarterfinals following a comeback from Haiti. Once again, dreams had turned into nightmares.
This is a Canada team stocked with talented players, including Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, and Lucas Cavallini. The roster included a healthy mix of European-based players and MLS ones. It seemed like this could be the summer Canada emerged as a contender. Instead, it fell short once again. A lot more work needs to happen ahead of 2022 World Cup Qualifying.
Haiti on the rise
Overall, Caribbean nations saw their stock go up. Many hadn’t given Haiti a second look when Concacaf announced the groups a few months back. Instead, the Caribbean island nation won its group after shocking Costa Rica and went on to upset Canada to start off the knockout round. Those performances alone make Haiti a threat going forward.
If that seemed like overachieving, Haiti had more to do. Thanks largely to its goalkeeper and captain Johny Placide, Haiti was a marvel to watch in the semifinals. Placide was officially out of a club contract as of June 30, on the eve of the semifinals. Don’t be surprised if he gets scooped up during the summer transfer window after what he did. Placide and his teammates pushed Mexico to the brink of elimination, needing overtime and a dubious penalty to win the match.
Central American futility
At the other end of the spectrum was the downturn suffered by Central American nations. Indeed, the biggest disappointments came from this part of Concacaf’s diverse region. Costa Rica didn’t have it, even though Mexico needed a shootout to get past them in the quarterfinals. The Ticos possibly marked that exit with the end of an era. This Costa Rica team had reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup. Those players – like 33-year-old captain Bryan Ruiz and 31-year-old midfielder Celso Borges – are aging out of the squad. They will need to rebuild.
The other big flop was Honduras. The team lost to Curacao, eliminated after just two matches. For a team that always gives opponents a tough time during the Hexagonal, this Honduras side lacked bite and guile. Fabian Coito, who took over as coach just this year, needs to find a solution for what ails his team or risk seeing his team fall behind.
Wonderful TV coverage
A special kudos to the work of former USMNT stars Cobi Jones, Maurice Edu, and Landon Donovan for their work on FS1. Their experiences as players allowed them to speak with authority. American soccer was better for it.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Longevity in MLS
- Q&A with USMNT player Jordan Morris
- 2019 Gold Cup Preview: The USMNT's opponents in Group D
- International absences make it difficult for six MLS teams
Photo by John Dorton - ISIPhotos.com