The United States men’s national team hauled in the sixth trophy in its century-long existence on Wednesday, claiming the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. As widely noted, the big, angular cup comes with an asterisk. It was the so-called off-year Gold Cup. The biennial tournament is only contested by the proper A-teams in every other edition, when it doesn’t overlap with World Cup qualifying.
And the truth is that the U.S. seemed to take it more seriously than lots of the other major countries, bringing in a handful of A-team pillars during the window between the group and knockout stages when it could make roster changes. Something that nobody else really did.
That said, this tournament will nevertheless have repercussions for the depth chart as World Cup qualifying resumes in September and we bear down on the big tournament for next summer.
So here are the five men who helped their cases, and the five whose chances were hurt.
Newly Americanized, the English-born Orlando City striker scored on his debut in a pre-tournament friendly against Ghana and then again in the opener against Panama. While he was one of the players replaced after the group stage, he demonstrated that he likely has a role to play going forward. Because Dwyer adds something to the corps of forwards: a grittiness and instinct that is sometimes hard to find.
The tiny Tijuana winger got a chance and seized it. Throughout the tournament, he was active on the right, pinning back opposing fullbacks and creating room for overlaps. The USA has historically lacked wide players who can take on an opponent and create. So having another one, and a 22-year-old at that, is a nice pickup.
Before the next World Cup kicks off, Tim Howard will have turned 39. Yet the veteran Colorado Rapids goalkeeper doesn’t yet have a serious threat for the top job in the U.S. goal. Because Brad Guzan, who is 32, once again looked pedestrian during the group stage. Howard, on the other hand, made the difference several times in the knockout rounds. And, once again, there were no opportunities for younger goalkeepers to distinguish themselves.
The speedy forward was one of the tournament leaders in goals with three. He didn’t just score the trophy-clinching goal in the final, but also got the winner against lowly Martinique, avoiding a national embarrassment. As he grows into his national team role, the 22-year old Seattle Sounder is showing that he’s more than just pace.
This was a strange tournament for Acosta — who, like his namesake, Kelyn Rowe, got a prolonged look and made a strong impression. Because it seemed that the longer the tournament went on, the more the FC Dallas product regressed. Or perhaps he withered as the opposition got better and the pressure grew. But that’s the skill to be mastered in tournament play, to grow as it progresses. And Acosta had never been through that before at the senior team level. But he showed more than enough flashes to suggest that he can be one of the starting central midfielders of the future.
Maybe it’s harsh to judge him on one bad play against Martinique and one unlucky one.
— CONCACAF (@CONCACAF) July 13, 2017
— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) July 13, 2017
But you once again couldn’t escape the feeling that Guzan, for all the time he has put in as Howard’s understudy, just isn’t a very strong goalkeeper at the international level. If the Atlanta United netminder were the starter in Russia, for whatever reason, we could arguably say that the U.S. has never been weaker in goal in almost three decades at the World Cup. He didn’t dispel that impression at the Gold Cup.
Going into the Gold Cup, Villafana appeared to be the program’s longed-for answer at left back. Coming out of it, the Santos Laguna man is just another question mark. Because he was inconsistent, and simply poor on the days during the group stage when the entire back line faltered.
Hedges got looks against Martinique in the group stage and El Salvador in a savage quarterfinal. He looked shaky in both games. At 27, this was likely the FC Dallas defender’s big shot to get into the crowded mix at center back. But he more likely played himself out of it.
What a strange career the 24-year-old forward has had, somehow racking up 26 caps. We’re still not entirely sure what to make of him, and he didn’t show a whole lot in a start and two substitution appearances during the group stage. During this tournament, it became a little more unlikely that Swagudelo will ever fully unfurl the potential he flashed as a 17-year-old debutant.
Sounders fans were excited for Roldan to make the final roster, but if you hardly even realized that he was in the tournament at all, you’re probably not alone. Roldan went 90 against Martinique, making his national team debut, but wasn’t noticeable in a messy game and wasn’t heard from again since. It might be a while before he gets another chance. Because it’s awfully congested in central midfield.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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