Kellyn Acosta, whose free kick set up the game-winning goal, celebrates with his teammates. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
As U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter has proven, there is a substitute for success.
In his case, there are usually five of them. He has used them almost to perfection during the Concacaf Gold Cup as all three of the U.S. men’s national team’s knockout round wins came after the 84th minute.
The three goals were influenced by second-half substitutions:
* Forward Matthew Hoppe, a starter, scored in the 83rd minute in the quarterfinal victory over Jamaica June 25. Cristian Roldan, who took over for Paul Arriola in the 63rd minute, set up the goal.
* Forward Gyasi Zardes, who replaced Daryl Dike in the 63rd minute, connected for the game-winner in the 86th minute in the semifinal result over Qatar July 29. His goal was assisted by Nicholas Gioacchini, who came on for Hoppe in the 86th minute.
* And defender Miles Robinson, a starter, tallied the game-winner in the 117th minute in the final triumph over Mexico in Paradise, Nev. in the final Sunday night. Kellyn Acosta, a starter, set up the goal.
Robinson was put in position to pull off his heroics by fresh legs coming on in the second half.
Needless to say, Berhalter embraced the fact he could use five subs. That rule was expanded from three to five when clubs and national team started to return to play during the COVID-19 pandemic because there were so many games within a short period of time.
Five substitutions will be used during World Cup qualifying, which kicks off for the USA Sept. 2. Several times the USA and its Concacaf foes will be forced to play three matches within a seven- or eight-day period because qualifying needed to become more condensed.
“It makes a lot of sense to continue with five substitutes based on the short amount of rest between games and the three game windows,” Berhalter said. “That will be important. We think we have good depth. We think we can strategically use our substitutes and make an impact in the game.”
Berhalter used Sunday’s final as an example.
“When you look at today, Sam [Vines] and Shaq [Moore] came in and maybe disappointed not to start but I told him that their role and I told him how important the role would be,” he said. “So they made a big impact. It was important to have guys who can support the team.”