Gold Cup Post Mortem
5 Key Takeaways from the Yanks' Impressive Cup Run
July 27, 2017
THE 2017 GOLD CUP is now in the books and the United States is once again the regional champion. It was the latest step in what has been a very good year for American soccer, both at the youth and senior levels. Heading into the crucial World Cup qualifiers this fall, Arena should now have a very good understanding of his player pool.
Things were fairly murky at the start of 2017 with the U.S. in bad shape in World Cup qualifying. Now, qualifying is looking increasingly likely without having to go through a fourth-place playoff and that should give Arena a longer window to plan ahead for the World Cup next year.
Of course the Gold Cup can be fool’s gold if taken as a major accomplishment. Most of CONCACAF consists of minnows and should not offer a serious test for any U.S. squad that plays at home. That doesn’t mean it's meaningless though. Opponents are heavily motivated and players do need to step up.
Any chance to impress the coaching staff needs to be taken seriously by the players and the tournament gave Arena a real chance to learn. Here is a rundown of the big takeaways
Altidore proves a point
It's easy to forget that in each of the last four years, Jozy Altidore has been injured for major international tournaments. In 2013 he missed the entire Gold Cup; in 2014 he was injured 20 minutes into the World Cup; in 2015 he was forced out of the Gold Cup after the group stages; and in 2016 he was unable to play in the Copa America.
This was the first tournament that Altidore was able to fully compete in for the United States since 2011. He did not disappoint and was the man of the match in the final. (He also the U.S. the lead in the semifinal win over Costa Rica.) But it wasn’t just his two goals; his passing and hold-up play were effective.
Altidore, 27, garners a lot of criticism from fans but the truth is that since 2011 injuries have limited him. Injuries are a concern to most of the top American forwards, as Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey have also faced medical issues that have kept them off the field. If Altidore can stay healthy through the next World Cup, the team will have a much better chance at success.
Veterans on the ascent
The Gold Cup was won on the backs of the team’s most established players—which isn't necessarily exciting for supporters who are waiting for the next new face to break through. Success in Russia will depend on the performances of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and other veterans. Of course younger players will need to emerge, but the veterans still remain a big part of the equation.
Bradley had his ups and downs under Jurgen Klinsmann—and/or when partnered with Jermaine Jones—but the captain has had a very good summer for the national team and he anchors a very good Toronto FC team. If Bradley can play at his best, and it is certainly possible he will, the U.S. central midfield will be in good shape.
Dempsey seems ready to embrace his new super-sub role, and that is a huge benefit to a team that needs more bench options. He can still start the odd game or two for the U.S. but in a tournament with games in quick succession, that will be hard for him. Through the Gold Cup, he has found a way to be effective for his country.
Nagbe was the big winner
Darlington Nagbe's skyrockted during this tournament. He has the talent and skill to go against high-level competition but the trick was getting him to play at that level consistently.
In Wednesday's final Nagbe had 69 touches with just four total turnovers (two in each half). He managed to create plays and helped the U.S. enjoy a possession edge throughout the knockout stages. Nagbe is rated much more highly by Arena than Klinsmann and this Gold Cup cemented Nagbe not only as a starter on the U.S. but also a key part in the team’s offense.
As for whether or not he is a winger or based centrally, that question will be answered in the future. But it could be exciting to see Nagbe and Christian Pulisic interchanging between the central and outside midfield positions during a single game.
Morris answers questions
Jordan Morris' set piece defending led to the Jamaican goal in the final but Morris came to life after that miscue when he shifted to the wing. He not only scored the winning goal but was dangerous the final 25 minutes of the game.
If Arena takes four forwards to Russia, the first three are Altidore, Dempsey, and Bobby Wood. The last one had been up in the air with Morris, Juan Agudelo, and Dom Dwyer all among the most likely candidates.
Morris is still growing as player but he has enough of a skillset where he can make an impact. His speed also gives Arena a different type of striker. There is still a long way to go before Russia but Morris is in a good spot right now to book a ticket. He needs to play much better for Seattle but at least now he’ll have reason for confidence.
Another creator is needed
Right now Christian Pulisic is a huge part of the team’s offense—perhaps too big a part. The Americans need a Plan B.
Looking at the Gold Cup final, Arena used a 4-4-2 with Acosta and Bradley in the middle. Both of those two are good box-to-box players but both need a creator in front of them. That is the reason why the forwards seemed starved for service and it's also why so many of the attacks came from the wings. (Left back Jorge Villafana had an impressive eight crosses on the night).
It's unreasonable to expect Acosta to be a creator when that is not really part of his skillset. Neither is Bradley a playmaker, and so far in 2017 he has thrived by focusing more on his box-to-box responsibilities.
So what is the team’s game plan if Pulisic is hurt or suspended? Arena can’t rely on two box-to-box guys to create. Nagbe is not ideal in the No. 10 position although he is better at it than Bradley or Acosta.
There are no real answers to this question right now but it should be one of pressing concern coming out of the Gold Cup.