Sports Gold Cup success proves USMNT is deeper than ever as World Cup qualifiers loom

23:35  02 august  2021
23:35  02 august  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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As he spoke after the U.S. men's national team's Gold Cup triumph over Mexico, Gregg Berhalter had to catch himself.

Just moments earlier, his young U.S. side stunned a team loaded with El Tri regulars in the Gold Cup finale. An unheralded U.S. - dubbed a B or C team at best - had somehow stood toe-to-toe with Mexico and won.

It was something few could believe. How could the youngest Gold Cup finalist in the program's history beat Mexico, the traditional kings of this tournament? How could a group of youngsters and expected backups beat a Mexico team that had so many of its top stars?

Few could believe it. But Berhalter did the whole way.

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"Mexico is still, I think, the best team in the tournament or one of the best teams in the tournament," Berhalter said at his postgame press conference before pausing to collect his thoughts. "Next to us, obviously."

This summer will go down as a massive statement for Berhalter's USMNT, which beat its rivals twice to prove that it is once again at the top of CONCACAF. Long gone are the painful memories of Trinidad & Tobago; it's a new dawn for the USMNT.

And that's not just because of the talent at the top of the roster, because we all knew about that. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, Gio Reyna and several other top American stars are playing at a higher level than any that preceded them.

What we didn't know was just how deep this team was when you expand the pool even further.

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Calling in a squad that featured just three players from June's Nations League win over Mexico, Berhalter took this Gold Cup as a chance to take a deep dive. This summer was a chance to look at guys that normally wouldn't get the chance, to expand the pool in the months just before things get real in World Cup qualifying.

And he did so with different types of players. Berhalter didn't just bring in a group of veterans in an effort to win. He also didn't bring in a young team in need of experience. He mixed the two, selecting a roster of up-and-comers and hungry veterans desperate to prove that they deserve one chance.

a group of people posing for the camera: USMNT GOld CUp gfx © Provided by Sporting News USMNT GOld CUp gfx

He expanded that pool to bring in young stars like Miles Robinson, Daryl Dike, James Sands, Gianluca Busio, Eryk Williamson, Sam Vines and George Bello, all of whom can now be trusted to play at any point in World Cup qualifiers.

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Berhalter added a few veterans to the mix too, like Kellyn Acosta, who now looks like a legitimate answer in the midfield. Gyasi Zardes is as reliable as ever, as was Walker Zimmerman before his injury. Matt Turner, probably the USMNT's player of the tournament, may just push Zack Steffen for that No.1 goalkeeper spot by the time the big games role around.

By lifting the trophy on Sunday, the USMNT's players didn't just prove they're capable of winning the Gold Cup. They also proved that they're trustworthy, that they can handle anything that may be thrown at them if they are needed on the road to Qatar 2022.

"I think I've been consistent in saying that we want to win the Gold Cup and, from day one that we came in camp, that was our objective," Berhalter said reflecting on this group. "That was the team's goal. We thought we had enough quality in the squad to get it done.

"It sometimes looks a little different and sometimes the shape changes and the personnel change but we have guys that are committed to winning and take great pride in it. When they step on the field to represent the country, I think, in terms of looking at it differently, I just think this was a great opportunity to evaluate guys in competitive games."

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There are lots of competitive games and, if you look at the schedule, you can see why the U.S. will need everybody.

Over the next eight months, the U.S. will play 14 World Cup qualifiers. Some will be played in sets of three in a grueling sprint towards Qatar next winter.

Throughout that spring, the player pool will be tested. Players will miss time due to injury, of course. Others will miss out due to fatigue. Some games will require certain players and a certain system, while others will ask entirely different things of this USMNT.

But this summer proved that the U.S. has everything it will need. It has the players it needs to survive that sprint and the flexibility required to survive it in different ways. Whether they win pretty or win ugly, they have proven that they can win.

"Qualifying is everything right now," Berhalter said, already focusing on September. "That's we're focused on that right now actually. That's our focus. This tournament is in the past and now we shift towards qualifying.

"We know it's going to be grueling, but we think the player pool has matured and it's been battle-tested. Now, we move on."

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