The United States Men's National Team won its fifth Gold Cup on Sunday - its first since 2007 - by defeating Panama by a 1-0 score. Brek Shea tapped home the game-winning goal after Landon Donovan whiffed on a nice cross from Alejandro Bedoya, and despite missing on a couple of golden opportunities to put the match away, the Americans held on to finish a dominating performance in CONCACAF's bi-annual tournament.
Watch highlights of the match at: http://youtu.be/8r3z1app7yM
My three biggest takeaways from the Gold Cup for the USMNT:
1. Landon Donovan will play a significant role on this team over the next 12 months
Donovan went from an unsure participant in this tournament to its Most Valuable Player, scoring five goals and adding eight assists. He also seemed to embrace a leadership role with the younger guys on the team. By the final weekend, LD and Jurgen Klinsmann seemed to be getting along harmoniously. We will likely see Donovan starting in the USMNT's World Cup Qualifiers in September.
2. Depth is at an all-time high
Making up a starting lineup for next year's World Cup, or even the September matches, is virtually impossible right now. Not because of a lack of quality players, but because there are so many options at Klinsmann's disposal. We saw some of those options step up this past month in the Gold Cup. Do you start Dempsey up front with Altidore, or deploy him behind and allow a guy like Herculez Gomes or Eddie Johnson (who scored in the quarterfinal and semifinal, and should have put away a goal in the final) to partner with Jozy? Do Donovan and Zusi have the outside midfield positions locked up, or does someone like Bedoya or Joe Corona (both of whom played well in the Gold Cup) have a shot? Does Kyle Beckerman, who played exceptionally well in the knockout portion of the Gold Cup, get a crack at the defensive midfielder spot Jermaine Jones has owned in recent months? Will Shea make the roster in a "super sub" role after scoring the winning goals against Costa Rica and Panama coming off the bench?
3. It is fun cheering on this team
When a team runs off 11 wins in a row - and in the process win a trophy - it is bound to make its fans happy. But there is something about this team that is entertaining, and it isn't just the wins. They seem to have a great chemistry, led by Klinsmann's positive reinforcement and bonding techniques. They have played with much less of a "bunker down" approach when they have gone up against the likes of Germany, Belgium, and Italy since Klinsmann took over. There is no doubt that the opposition will get tougher in the coming weeks...an August qualifier against 14th in the world Bosnia-Herzegovina will be a stern test, followed by WCQ matches at Costa Rica and home vs Mexico. But there is no doubt this team is playing with a significant amount of confidence.