USMNT celebrates winning the Gold Cup. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
The skeptics said that it couldn’t be done, that the U.S. men’s national team that was deployed at the Concacaf Gold Cup was a B or even a C team.
On Sunday night, the young Americans taught a much more experienced Mexico squad some ABC’s of the beautiful game and probably many soccer fans some lessons in perseverance, intensity, grit and making the most of their chances.
Actually, the USA needed only one chance. Miles Robinson headed home Kellyn Acosta’s free kick from six yards past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera in the 117th minute to secure its seventh Gold Cup championship wqith a 1-0 victory at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas Sunday night.
GOLD CUP CHAMPS! 🏆
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 2, 2021
In slightly less than two months, the USA has won two of the confederations most important titles. The Americans captured the Concacaf Nations Cup over Mexico, also in extratime. What made this sweeter was that Mexico deployed its A team in this competition, while the USMNT rested many of its European-based players.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys in this in this group,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that are willing to fight for each other and fight for this country and prove that the United States is a country that has to be taken seriously.
“We really put our head down and grinded out results throughout the tournament.”
U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter celebrated his 48th birthday in the best way possible.
“It was the best birthday gift I could have gotten,” a smiling Berhalter said.
“I’m most proud for the team for the guys. We were together for a month. We just saw them growing. We saw the team growing. We saw individuals growing and improving. We saw the team chemistry growing. Before the final today there was a feeling inside of me that I just wanted it so bad for them that they can taste this and then they can win a trophy together.
“So, really proud of the group, really proud of their resiliency. We did not stop. It was relentless from us. That was a mark of a good team.”
Robinson’s late heroics were set up after Kevin Alvarez fouled Nicholas Gioacchini on the left flank. Acosta, who played a solid game breaking up Mexican plays, then looped in a free kick that Robinson found with his head six yards out for his third international goal in nine appearances.
MILES ROBINSON IN THE 117TH MINUTE 😱
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 2, 2021
The win was the fifth 1-0 victory in six games for the USA, a Gold Cup record.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner, who backstopped the Americans to those five clean sheets, was named the Golden Glove winner.
The loss was a bitter pill for the Mexicans as that country’s media started speculation about the future of head coach Tata Martino.
“Today’s defeat hurt,” captain Hector Moreno said. “We had opportunities to score, but we couldn’t do it in the end. It cost us.”
It was hardly a pretty match for either team, especially the USMNT, which was outplayed by El Tri in the opening half.
The confrontation matched a more experienced Mexican side against a younger American team.
In fact, Berhalter deployed the second youngest Starting XI that appeared in a final at 24 years, 236 days. The side that began the Concacaf Nations League win over Mexico June 6 (24 years, 206 days) was the youngest.
Not surprisingly, the opening half was dominated by El Tri, who outshot the USA, 12-4, placed more shots on target, 4-2, and finished with more corner kicks, 6-1. The Mexicans also dominated possession, 67-33. The Americans did lead in one category, fouling Mexico 13 times while the visitors were assessed six.
The first half turned into the Matt Turner show as he saved the USA on four occasions from the onrushing Mexican side.
Turner denied Rogelio Funes Mori three times, first on an 11th-minute header, and then from the right side of the area from close range in the 31st minute. Seven minutes later, the New England Revolution keeper denied the forward. Turner also stopped Hector Herrera’s header off a corner kick in the 19th minute.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) August 2, 2021
In a fast moving half, the Americans two pretty decent scoring opportunities. After the pressured Mexico into a turnover in its defensive half, Paul Arriola, the team captain for the match, found himself with a point-blank opportunity with goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, but he sent his shot off the outside of the right post in the 26th minute.
Matthew Hoppe came almost as close in the 44th minute as he header from a corner kick just whizzed by the left post.
The teams picked up where they left off in the second half as both sides played with intensity. Unfortunately, their finishing ability was less than desired.
Arriola picked first-half substitute Carlos Salcedo’s pocket in the Mexican end in the 70th minute, setting up a chance for Hoppe, whose shot was blocked for a corner kick. On the ensuing corner, Talavera snared the ball in a crowd.
Hoppe found himself with another opportunity in the 71st minute, but his shot was deflected for another corner.
With the momentum in their favor, the USA found itself with another dead ball situation in the 74th minute. Acosta swung in a free kick that Zardes put on goal. Talavera stopped it. Arriola, however, could slot a loose ball home as Mexico gave away yet another corner.
“I’ve been consistent saying that we want to win the Gold Cup.” Berhalter said. “From day one, we came in camp that was our objective. 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 and, and when they step on the field to represent the country. I just think this was a great opportunity to evaluate guys in competitive games, and we certainly have been able to do that in this tournament.”
It couldn’t have come soon enough. World Cup qualifying kicks off at El Salvador at a venue to be determined Sept. 2. And there will be a rematch with Mexico in Cincinnati Nov. 12.