By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 21, 2023) US Soccer Players – Twice the Nations League has been contested in Concacaf, and twice the United States claimed the championship. The USMNT completed its defense of the Concacaf Nations League title with a convincing two-game performance at the tournament finals in Las Vegas. Between the 3-0 semifinal victory over Mexico on Thursday and the 2-0 win over Canada in the final on Sunday, the Americans rarely looked to be flustered, hassled, or threatened by the opponent.
Much like the Nations League triumph in 2021, the 2023 Nations League title feels like a seminal moment in the evolution of the United States program. With the business of hiring a head coach completed and a talented generation of American players pushing into the spotlight, the possibilities for the team seem to have no ceiling.
The not-too-distant future includes a Copa America tournament in the United States in 2024 and the North American World Cup coming in 2026. Those tournaments will give the USMNT a chance to test itself against first South America and then the world on home soil.
But the USMNT can’t set its sights on next year’s event quite yet. As in 2021, the Americans are Nations League champions. As in 2023, the United States wants to also win the Gold Cup title and make the summer a double success.
Head coach BJ Callahan called up a mostly European-based squad for the Nations League. For the Gold Cup, he’ll lead a team largely made up of MLS players with a sprinkling of internationals called in from other leagues. Five players will be part of the Gold Cup effort who were on the roster for the Nations League. Two of those players were also part of last year’s Gold Cup championship-winning team.
Goalkeepers Matt Turner and Sean Johnson, center back Miles Robinson, midfielder Alan Sonora, and forward Alex Zendejas celebrated the American victory over Canada on Sunday night in Las Vegas and then made their way to Chicago to join their Gold Cup teammates for this Saturday’s group stage opener against Jamaica.
Robinson missed the final because of a small injury, though he played a massive role in the American victory over Mexico in last Thursday’s semifinal. Robinson played 81 minutes against El Tri, collecting five recoveries, a pair of clearances, and passing at a 91% rate for the game.
If the United States is also hoping to channel some of the magic that helped the team win last year’s Gold Cup, Robinson is an excellent choice. It was Robinson’s 117th-minute header against Mexico in 2021 that gave the Americans the championship and prevented Mexico from going back-to-back as champions. Should the Americans win this year’s Gold Cup, they would be the first back-to-back winners since Mexico achieved consecutive Gold Cup victories in 2009 and 2011.
Joining Robinson in this year’s Gold Cup team is Turner, the starting goalkeeper for last year’s Gold Cup run and this year’s triumph at the Nations League in Las Vegas. Thanks to the dominant defensive effort of Robinson and the rest of the American team against Mexico, Turner needed to make just one save in Thursday’s semifinal. On Sunday against Canada, Turner was called into action a bit more and made four saves in the championship-winning effort.
Turner played every game of the World Cup as the USA’s number-one goalkeeper in Qatar. He built his case for that job in part with his performance in the 2021 Gold Cup, where he conceded a single goal and made 22 saves across six starts. He took home the Golden Glove Award as the tournament’s top keeper.
Johnson served as a backup to Turner for the Nations League and is part of the group available for selection for Callaghan for the Gold Cup. Johnson went to the World Cup as part of a trio of goalkeepers that included Turner and Ethan Horvath.
Two other players from the Nations League roster are relatively new to the USMNT but could play big roles in the Gold Cup defense.
Sonora made his USMNT debut in January in the American loss to Serbia, then played as a second-half substitute in a friendly against Colombia a few days later. He also came off the bench against Mexico in a friendly back in April that finished 1-1.
Zendejas was part of the USMNT’s January camp, featuring in the January match against Serbia. He came off the bench against Grenada to score the seventh and final goal for the Americans and started and played an hour in a 1-0 victory over El Salvador a few days later.
Two tournaments, two trophies, and two very different rosters. Callaghan will attempt to replicate the success of 2021 with a new set of players following the Nations League victory, save for a group of five that will bring the thrill of the wins over Mexico and Canada with them to the 2023 Gold Cup.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
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Photo by Roy K Miller – ISIPhotos.com