The U.S. men's national team has spent the past year-plus testing and challenging the established order. It has pushed its limits and potential against soccer’s traditional powers and learned a bit about where it stood on the world stage one World Cup cycle into coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s ambitious and unconventional tenure.
The Americans survived a difficult group last summer in Brazil. They defeated nemesis Ghana, should have beaten Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, held champion-to-be Germany to one goal and nearly escaped the rampant Belgians in the round of 16. Since then, Klinsmann has made the most of the available friendly dates, intending to prioritize the crucible over the comfort zone. He took his team back to South America and to Europe four times. Some games, like last month’s wins over Netherlands and Germany, revealed signs of progress. Others, like November’s heavy losses to Colombia and Ireland, demonstrated how far the U.S. still has to go.
Now, after a year of travel and trial, Klinsmann and U.S. will face familiar opponents on familiar fields.
The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the 13th edition of the continent’s biennial championship tournament, kicks off Tuesday in Frisco, Texas, and represents a return to the Americans’ base of power. There are challenges there, certainly, but far loftier expectations. The U.S. is the reigning champion, having stormed to the 2013 title. And it understands that global legitimacy begins with sustained success in its own backyard.
Twelve teams will compete for the CONCACAF title in 14 cities over three frantic weeks. Here is a U.S.-centric look at nine Gold Cup storylines, one for each final the Americans have contested since the tournament began in 1991:
The U.S. is on the verge of establishing regional dominance
A quarter century ago, the U.S. competed in its first World Cup in 40 years. In 1991, the Americans stunned Mexico in the Gold Cup semifinals and went on to claim their first regional title (CONCACAF had been crowning a champion via other means since 1963). At that point, the U.S. was a soccer Cinderella. A generation later, it’s practically the king of CONCACAF.
The Americans have won three of the past five Gold Cup titles (and five overall), qualified for a record five straight finals and finished first in each of the last two Hexagonal World Cup qualifying competitions.
Under Klinsmann, the U.S. is 24-4-7 against CONCACAF opposition. That record includes a 3-0-3 mark against Mexico and a current eight-game unbeaten run lasting 22 months.
Klinsmann’s only loss to a regional rival on home soil came back in September 2011, a 1-0 friendly setback to Costa Rica in his second match in charge.
A second straight Gold Cup championship would draw the U.S. level with Mexico on the tournament scoreboard and cement the Americans’ reign over CONCACAF, helping it establish a foothold for its assault on the rest of the world in 2018.
The trophy is just the beginning
For soccer’s traditional powers, a continental title is chased for its own sake. One doesn’t think of the European Championship or the Copa América as a means to an end. But the Gold Cup—young, frequent and dominated by the U.S. and Mexico—doesn’t have that cache. The trophy is just part of the prize. No statement of Gold Cup intent is complete without a reference to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, where the U.S. hopes to prepare for the World Cup in a tournament that will feature three European teams (including Germany), Chile and more.
When asked about why he assembled such an experienced squad for this month’s competition, Klinsmann answered, “Our approach for putting together the roster for [the Gold Cup], which is very, very important to us, is obviously to do everything possible to win this competition. Winning it would qualify us for the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, so putting the pieces together is very crucial.”
Outside of a World Cup, the Confederations Cup represents the Americans’ only chance to play European and South American powers in official competition. It’s an opportunity that Klinsmann doesn’t want to waste. If the U.S. fails to win the Gold Cup, it will be forced into a one-game playoff in early October for CONCACAF’s Confederations Cup birth (thanks to the 2013 title). If the U.S. claims the Gold Cup, it’ll qualify directly for the 2017 tournament. That playoff is the only big game that Klinsmann has no interest in playing.
The General takes command
Michael Bradley has been a key U.S. contributor for years. Now, as he prepares to win his 100th cap when the U.S. opens group play against Honduras on Tuesday, he’s its centerpiece. This Gold Cup tournament is poised to be his.
Bradley’s move to Toronto FC after eight years in Europe appears to be having the affect he desired. He wanted to crucial rather than complementary—a leader who was counted on, who set the tone and helped shape his team’s approach and culture. Given the chance to do that every day in Toronto, he’s confidently embraced that mandate with the U.S. It’s his team.
Starting last year, Klinsmann began asking Bradley to do more, adding the primary playmaking responsibilities to his box-to-box checklist. Bradley has become increasingly comfortable in that role and he was dominant against the Dutch and Germans last month, keying both wins with his range and relentlessness in midfield. He’s played every minute of all eight U.S. games this year and last week was named team captain, replacing Clint Dempsey.
Bradley has worn the armband in each of the past five friendlies.
“It’s a huge honor,” Bradley said. “It’s a big responsibility and one that I’m very, very excited about. But who I am and what I’m about on the field and off the field with this team doesn’t change whether I’m captain or not.”
His leadership already was established, which even Dempsey acknowledged.
“It’s cool. Michael is a great leader. He deserves to be captain,” he said.
Bradley also deserves to lift a trophy, which is something he hasn’t done in an otherwise successful, arguably groundbreaking, 12-year pro career. He was suspended from the ’07 Gold Cup decider and has been shut out with club and country since (he wasn't part of the 2013 Gold Cup team). He’s ready and able. It’s time to come full circle. The final is July 26 in Philadelphia, not far form his birthplace of Princeton, New Jersey.
Challenge and opportunity in CONCACAF
The U.S.’s tough first half in Friday’s friendly against Guatemala illustrated some of the challenges CONCACAF opponents beyond Mexico (and now Costa Rica) can pose. Being the favorite can be frustrating if you lack sharpness or are out of synch.
“We expect most of the teams to play against us in a very defensive style,” Klinsmann warned. “It’s not going to be an open game like in a World Cup where you have the best teams in the world and they just go at you. In most of our games in the Gold Cup, it’s going to be the opposite. They’re going to defend first of all and then hope for a counter break or for a set piece to score against us.”
The U.S. broke through in the second half and beat Guatemala, 4-0, in Nashville. But Klinsmann remained concerned.
“Obviously 4-0 sounds really nice,” he said Friday. “Performance? Not so nice. I’m not happy with that performance. I’m kind of disappointed with a couple things: movement off the ball, speed of play, urgency.”
Klinsmann’s self-imposed mission was to field a national team that played proactive, dynamic soccer. The challenge this month will be to do so against teams aiming to stop it. At the World Cup, the U.S. typically was on the back foot. In CONCACAF it should be on the front, and with that comes a different sort of test. Gamesmanship, tactical fouling and infuriating officiating are part of the CONCACAF landscape. The team Klinsmann ultimately wants to build must thrive, not just survive, in those conditions.
Dempsey’s present and future
There’s been speculation that Dempsey’s U.S. Open Cup meltdown was the excuse, rather than the reason, for Klinsmann’s decision to hand the captaincy to Bradley (The notion that Dempsey would have faced additional pressure internally, or from the press or supporters, because of last month’s red card doesn’t make much sense. A pre-emptive, first-day apology immediately followed by, “And from here on out I’m focused only on winning the Gold Cup,” would’ve been the last time it was brought up.)
Dempsey is 32 years old. He’ll be 35 when the 2018 World Cup kicks off, an older player in a tournament that often caters to the young. His skill and flair certainly haven’t deserted him (he’s got seven goals and six assists in 12 MLS games for the Seattle Sounders), and he’ll be crucial to U.S. hopes at the Gold Cup.
“We need Clint Dempsey badly with the national team. We need him in a good spirit,” Klinsmann said. “He’s at  goals for his country and I told him I want him to score many, many more. Hopefully in this summer’s Gold Cup he becomes the top scorer in the tournament.”
Dempsey has U.S. goals since the World Cup, one in February’s 2-0 win over Panama and a second from the penalty spot on Friday. There are questions about the evolution of the U.S. offense. Is it better with two frontrunners, or with one striker supported by a withdrawn forward and attackers on the flanks? Does the team benefit more from Dempsey’s prowess near goal or from his tendency to retreat and hunt for the ball? Do Dempsey and Jozy Altidore have a long-term future together?
Dempsey’s creativity will be key against opponents who pack the penalty area, and he remains a charismatic focal point of the national team. But a time when the U.S. must imagine an attack without Dempsey is approaching, and his performance over the next month may offer an indication of how close that time is.
Guzan's play in goal
Brad Guzan is 30, has been an English Premier League player for seven years and has 31 caps. Yet he hasn’t started a game at a major tournament in six years, ever since manning the nets in the 3-0 win over Egypt at the 2009 Confederations Cup. Tim Howard started at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and the 2011 Gold Cup and Nick Rimando was the No. 1 in 2013 (He did start a pair of key World Cup qualifying hexagonal matches against Costa Rica and Mexico in the build-up to Brazil 2014).
Finally, at this Gold Cup, it’s Guzan’s goal. And the appointment from Klinsmann came despite Rimando’s sustained excellence and Guzan’s recent benching by Aston Villa. It also comes with Howard, who took a year’s sabbatical from international play, having said he’d be interested in returning.
Guzan has been more than patient as a backup. He played well last month, especially in the win over Holland. It was first U.S. appearance since November. Now is his chance to seize the No. 1 spot permanently.
“Anytime you’re in professional sports, there’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs,” Guzan told reporters before shutting out Guatemala. “It’s a test of your character. It’s a test of your mentality, how you bounce back from those times when they don’t go your way, and you have to try and find a way to move forward from those.”
Said Bradley: “Across the board, the confidence in Brad is huge. We’re all excited for him now that he’s getting extended run of games as the No. 1. There’s full confidence in him that when big moments come, that he’ll be there for us.”
Surviving and thriving in a year of transition
Klinsmann said numerous times that the 12 months following the World Cup would mark a year of “transition” that would end with the selection of a roster designed to win the Gold Cup. So who/what did that transition produce?
The Year in Photos: U.S. Soccer in 2015
U.S. U-20 vs. El Salvador, January 24
Paul Arriola (7) celebrates his goal in a World Cup qualifying playoff match vs. El Salvador. The U.S. U-20s cemented their place in the World Cup with a 2-0 win. They drew host New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar in their summer group.
USMNT vs. Chile, January 28
Bobby Wood flies high in the USA's 3-2 loss to Chile, which opened the calendar year for the national team. Brek Shea and Jozy Altidore scored in the loss.
USMNT vs. Panama, February 8
Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey celebrate after combining for a goal against Panama at StubHub Center to cap off winter training camp with a 2-0 victory.
USWNT vs. France, February 8
Lori Chalupny (left) and the USWNT had a tough time keeping pace with Jessica Houara (center) and France in a 2-0 loss in a friendly in Lorient. The match was the first of two played without suspended goalkeeper Hope Solo.
USWNT vs. England, February 13
Alex Morgan celebrates scoring the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over England in a friendly at Stadium mk in Milton Keynes.
USWNT vs. Norway, March 4
The USWNT opens the Algarve Cup with a 2-1 win over Norway, marking Hope Solo's return from a 30-day suspension with a come-from-behind victory. Carli Lloyd scored both goals for the Americans.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, March 6
Alex Morgan celebrates her goal in the USWNT's 3-0 win over Switzerland in the Algarve Cup group stage.
USWNT vs. Iceland, March 9
Alex Morgan and the USWNT were frustrated by Iceland, held to a 0-0 draw to wrap up group play at the Algarve Cup. The result was still enough to put the Americans in the final against France.
USWNT vs. France, March 11
The U.S. women's national team celebrates winning the Algarve Cup after a 2-0 triumph over France. Julie Johnston and Christen Press scored, and Hope Solo saved a penalty kick.
U.S. U-17 vs. Jamaica, March 15
The U.S. U-17 national team celebrates qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup after defeating Jamaica on penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw in a playoff match.
USMNT vs. Denmark, March 25
U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando expresses his frustration after one of Nicklas Bendtner's three goals in Denmark's 3-2 win over the Americans. Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson scored for the USA.
USMNT vs. Switzerland, March 31
Jozy Altidore watches as Brek Shea hits a perfect free kick to put the USA on the board against Switzerland. The Americans settled for a 1-1 draw.
USWNT vs. New Zealand, April 4
Lori Chalupny (16) celebrates her goal vs. New Zealand with Lauren Holiday at St. Louis's Busch Stadium. The goal opened the floodgates for a late outburst en route to a 4-0 U.S. victory in front of more than 35,000 fans.
USMNT vs. Mexico, April 15
Jordan Morris etched his name in U.S.-Mexico lore, as the Stanford University forward scored in his first senior national team start to break a scoreless draw against El Tri at the Alamodome.
USMNT vs. Mexico, April 15
Juan Agudelo collapses to the ground in celebration after his goal at the Alamodome gave the USA a familiar lead over Mexico: Dos-a-Cero.
U.S. U-23 vs. Mexico, April 22
Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil captains the USA to a 3-0 win over Mexico at StubHub Center in Olympic qualifying preparation for both CONCACAF favorites.
USWNT vs. Ireland, May 10
Abby Wambach celebrates one of her two goals vs. Ireland as the USWNT took a 3-0 win on Mother's Day at Avaya Stadium.
USWNT vs. Mexico, May 17
Sydney Leroux is congratulated by her teammates after one of her two goals in a 5-1 pre-World Cup rout of Mexico at StubHub Center.
U.S. U-20 vs. Myanmar, May 30
Maki Tall celebrates his equalizer for the USA as part of a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Myanmar to open the U-20 World Cup group stage in New Zealand.
USWNT vs. South Korea, May 30
Carli Lloyd gets off a shot through traffic in the USA's final World Cup send-off friendly, a 0-0 draw against South Korea at Red Bull Arena.
U.S. U-23 in Toulon Tournament, May-June
Alonso Hernandez, left, takes on Qatar, while Julian Green, right, vies for the ball against France in the Toulon Tournament as part of Olympic qualifying preparations.
U.S. U-20 vs. New Zealand, June 2
Gedion Zelalem controls the ball against New Zealand in the USA's 4-0 win that cemented a place in the U-20 World Cup knockout stage.
U.S. U-20 vs. Ukraine, June 5
From left, Joel Soñora, Gedion Zelalem and Rubio Rubin show frustration during a 3-0 loss to Ukraine that wrapped up group play in the U-20 World Cup.
USMNT vs. Netherlands, June 5
DeAndre Yedlin and Danny Williams salute each other after the latter's goal–his first international strike–brought the U.S. level with the Netherlands at 3-3 in the 89th minute.
USMNT vs. Netherlands, June 5
Bobby Wood puts the finishing touch on an epic comeback, with his 90th-minute strike capping a wild 4-3 win for the USA over the Netherlands. The USA trailed 3-1 in the 71st minute.
U.S. U-23 vs. England, June 7
USA defender Boyd Okwuonu makes a tackle on England's Duncan Watmore in the Toulon Tournament third-place game. The U.S. U-23s won 2-1, sealing their best finish in the tournament.
USWNT vs. Australia, June 8, WWC
Megan Rapinoe lets out a yell after her second goal, which sealed the USA's 3-1 win over Australia to open Group D play in the Women's World Cup.
U.S. U-20 vs. Colombia, June 10
Rubio Rubin celebrates the goal that gives the USA a 1-0 win over Colombia in the FIFA U-20 World Cup round of 16. Zack Steffen's late penalty save preserved the win, as the Americans reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
USMNT vs. Germany, June 10
Michael Bradley was everywhere against World Cup champion Germany, assisting on Mix Diskerud's equalizer and commanding the midfield in a 2-1 win in Cologne.
USMNT vs. Germany, June 10
For the second straight game, Bobby Wood came off the bench and scored a stunning winner. He watches his long-range blast beat Ron-Robert Zieler in a 2-1 win over world No. 1 Germany.
USWNT vs. Sweden, June 12
Julie Johnston wins the header in a dominant showing on the U.S. back line, helping the Americans preserve a 0-0 draw against Sweden in the second game of the Women's World Cup group stage.
U.S. U-20 vs. Serbia, June 13
U.S. players' emotions say it all after a gut-wrenching loss to Serbia in penalty kicks at the U-20 World Cup. After a 0-0 draw, the Americans fell 6-5 in PKs, despite Zack Steffen's two saves in sudden death.
USWNT vs. Nigeria, June 16
Abby Wambach leaps for joy after scoring in the 45th minute off Megan Rapinoe's corner kick, which delivered a 1-0 win to the USA and first place in Group D of the Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Colombia, June 22
Alex Morgan's goal broke a 0-0 draw, provided relief after Abby Wambach's PK miss and helped the U.S. women to the World Cup quarterfinals after a 2-0 win over Colombia in the round of 16.
USWNT vs. China, June 26
While Carli Lloyd (10) celebrates her goal in the distance, stalwart center backs Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn rejoice in the goal that put the USA into the semifinals of the Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Germany, June 30
Carli Lloyd yells in celebration after scoring the penalty that put the USA up over Germany en route to a 2-0 victory in the Women's World Cup semifinals.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, July 3
DeAndre Yedlin and Jozy Altidore, wearing special jerseys with stars-and-stripes numbers for July 4, celebrate after a Guatemala own goal gifts the USA a 1-0 lead during a 4-0 win in Nashville, Tennessee, prior to the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
Carli Lloyd sets the tone with a third-minute goal in the Women's World Cup final against Japan, the first of her three strikes within 16 minutes that lifted the USA to a 5-2 win and its first title in 16 years.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
U.S. players rush the field after the final whistle, which sealed their 5-2 triumph over Japan and a record third World Cup title.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
Victorious, the U.S. women's national team raises the World Cup trophy for the third time, but the first in 16 years, after completing a 5-2 win over Japan in the final at Vancouver's BC Place.
USMNT vs. Honduras, July 7
Clint Dempsey leaps in celebration of his second goal in the USA's Gold Cup opener against Honduras. The Americans won 2-1, fending off a late Honduras surge to collect all three points in the start of their title defense.
USA vs. Haiti, July 10
Clint Dempsey (8) is congratulated by his teammates after a 47th-minute goal gave the USA a 1-0 win over Haiti in the Gold Cup. Gyasi Zardes, second from left, came on at halftime and assisted, and the win clinched first place in Group A.
USMNT vs Panama, July 13
Clint Dempsey, left, and Michael Bradley, right, celebrate after the latter's goal in the USA's 1-1 draw vs. Panama, which wrapped up group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
USMNT vs. Cuba, July 18
The U.S. men put on a clinic against an overmatched Cuba in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, with Clint Dempsey's hat trick leading the way in a 6-0 rout. Gyasi Zardes, Aron Johannsson and Omar Gonzalez also scored.
USMNT vs. Jamaica, July 22
A downtrodden Clint Dempsey and Jurgen Klinsmann walk off the field as Jamaica celebrates a stunning 2-1 win over the USA in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.
USMNT vs. Panama, July 25
Michael Bradley walks away in dismay after having a penalty saved in a PK shootout in the USA's loss to Panama in the Gold Cup third-place game. After a 1-1 draw, Panama prevailed 3-2 in PKs, the USA's first shootout in 10 years.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, August 16
Meghan Klingenberg waves a Terrible Towel in her hometown of Pittsburgh after scoring one of the USA's many goals in an 8-0 rout of Costa Rica in its first game since winning the 2015 Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, August 19
Alex Morgan and Kelley O'Hara celebrate during a second rout of Costa Rica in three days, this one a 7-2 win in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
USA U-23 vs. England U-21, Sept. 3
U.S. U-23 goalkeeper Zack Steffen looks on in disappointment as England U-21 forward James Wilson celebrates with Duncan Watmore after scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 friendly win in England.
USMNT vs. Peru, Sept. 4
Jozy Altidore, right, is congratulated after one of his two goals that sparked the USA's come-from-behind win over Peru at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
USA U-23 vs. Qatar, Sept. 8
Gedion Zelalem made his U-23 debut off the bench in the USA's 2-0 win over Qatar in England in the final tune-up before Olympic qualifying
USMNT vs. Brazil, Sept. 8
Neymar and Marcelo celebrate while DeAndre Yedlin and Ventura Alvarado look away in disgust during Brazil's 4-1 rout of the USA at Gillette Stadium.
USWNT vs. Haiti, Sept. 17, 20
Carli Lloyd scored hat tricks in both games and NWSL Golden Boot winner Crystal Dunn scored her first international goals as the USWNT beat Haiti 5-0 and 8-0 in a pair of friendlies in Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama. Haiti replaced on-strike Australia as a last-minute opponent.
USA U-23 vs. Canada, October 1
Jerome Kiesewetter, left, and Emerson Hyndman, right, sandwich Jordan Morris after his first-minute goal in the USA's 3-1 win over Canada in their Olympic qualifying opener.
USA U-23 vs. Cuba, October 3
Cameron Carter-Vickers gets congratulated by Jerome Kiesewetter and Emerson Hyndman after opening the scoring in a 6-1 rout of Cuba in their Olympic qualifying match. The USA cemented its place in the semifinal round with the win.
USA U-23 vs. Panama, October 6
There was plenty of credit to go around, as the Americans finished off a perfect group run in Olympic qualifying with a 4-0 win over Panama. Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter came on at halftime and provided the spark needed to seize the three points.
USA U-23 vs. Honduras, October 10
Wil Trapp's reaction says it all, as the USA failed to secure an automatic berth to the 2016 Olympics after falling to Honduras 2-0 in the semifinals of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament at Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Captain Michael Bradley leads the USA out onto the field ahead of the Americans' CONCACAF Cup playoff vs. Mexico at the Rose Bowl.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Geoff Cameron beats Rafa Marquez to the spot and heads home a 15th-minute equalizer off a free kick from Michael Bradley, negating a Chicharito goal five minutes earlier in the CONCACAF Cup playoff between USA and Mexico.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
U.S. forward Bobby Wood celebrates his 108th-minute goal vs. Mexico that brought the Americans level at 2-2 after Oribe Peralta had given El Tri the lead in extra time. That reprieve would only last for 10 minutes, though.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Jermaine Jones falls to his knees in disappointment as Mexico celebrates after Paul Aguilar's sensational volley in extra time captured the CONCACAF Cup for El Tri and sends the U.S. rival to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
USA U-23 vs. Canada, October 13
Marc Pelosi (15) celebrates after his goal breaks the deadlock and sends the U.S. U-23s on their way to a 2-0 win over Canada in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying third-place game. The U.S. still has a chance to reach Rio, but it'll have to go through Colombia in a playoff.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, October 13
Tim Howard can't watch as Costa Rica players celebrate Joel Campbell's goal in a 1-0 friendly win at Red Bull Arena. The match marked Howard's return to the U.S. goal for the first time since the 2014 World Cup round of 16.
USA U-17 vs. Nigeria, October 17
Victor Osimhen scores for Nigeria in a 2-0 win over the USA in the teams' FIFA Under-17 World Cup opener in Chile.
USA U-17 vs. Croatia, October 20
USA U-17 midfielder Christian Pulisic watches his opening goal find the back of the net in the Americans' 2-2 draw with Croatia at the World Cup. The U.S. led 2-0 on Pulisic's goal and assist to Brandon Vazquez, but the European side mounted a furious rally to salvage a point.
USWNT vs. Brazil, October 21
Shannon Boxx, right, passes off the captain's armband to Carli Lloyd in her final act as a player, riding into retirement in the first half of a 1-1 draw against Brazil in Seattle.
USA U-17 vs. Chile, October 23
USA U-17 captain Hugo Arellano sits dejected after a 4-1 loss to host Chile eliminated the Americans from the World Cup in the group stage.
USWNT vs. Brazil, October 25
The USA said goodbye to two more veterans, with Lauren Holiday, left, and Lori Chalupny ending their careers during a 2-1 win over Brazil in Orlando. The team improved to 5-0-1 on its World Cup victory tour with the win.
USWNT at the White House, October 27
President Barack Obama welcomes the World Cup-champion USWNT to the White House, honoring their triumph in Canada.
USMNT vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, November 13
Jozy Altidore watches one of his shots head toward goal in the USA's 6-1 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the opening of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Altidore scored twice, as the USA overcame a shocking early deficit and won at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago, November 17
Gyasi Zardes and the U.S. men were held to a 0-0 draw by Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, closing the year with a World Cup qualifying and sitting atop Group C in the semifinal round via goal differential tiebreaker.
USWNT vs. Trinidad & Tobago, December 10
Christen Press triumphantly raises her hand after a goal during her hat trick in a 6-0 rout of Trinidad & Tobago at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
USWNT vs. China, December 13
Crystal Dunn leaves her feet to settle a pass in the USA's 2-0 win over China at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Dunn and Christen Press scored the goals.
USWNT vs. China, December 16
Abby Wambach is introduced in the U.S. lineup for the last time at the Superdome in New Orleans, playing in her final match before retiring. She ends her U.S. career with 255 appearances and an international-record 184 goals.
The big winners are Gyasi Zardes, Alfredo Morales, DeAndre Yedlin, Ventura Alvarado and Greg Garza. Zardes, 23, has been particularly impactful this year and his increasing comfort with the speed of the international game was evident in last month’s wins in Europe and on Friday against Guatemala, which had difficulty dealing with his pace and inventiveness on the wing. He may be in line to start Tuesday against a Honduran side that can threaten from the flanks.
Yedlin also wasn’t a sure thing, especially after he struggled in a couple friendlies last fall then transferred to Tottenham, where playing time is tough to come by. But his pace and knack for getting behind defenses remains irresistible (see his assist against Holland), allowing for his learning curve to continue.
Yedlin, Zardes and Bradley are the only players to appear in each of the national team’s eight games this year.
Those who failed to make the provisional or final Gold Cup roster following the year of transition include young players like Julian Green, Miguel Ibarra and Bobby Wood. Bill Hamid, Joe Corona, Lee Nguyen, Michael Orozco, Matt Besler and Brek Shea made the 35-man cut, but at the very least won't be part of the group stage. (Tim Ream's return may have forced Besler aside).
Veterans such as Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams and Geoff Cameron are unavailable, highlighting the importance of the depth that Klinsmann has been trying to create. Klinsmann’s door tends to remain ajar, however. There surely will be more churn before World Cup qualifying starts this fall.
Mexico attempts to reclaim the throne
Four years ago, as Giovani Dos Santos was dancing through the U.S. defense en route to a memorably backbreaking goal in the Gold Cup final, it seemed as if Mexico’s position on the CONCACAF summit was unassailable. Blessed with a ton of attacking talent, El Tri than confirmed its championship credentials with an Olympic gold medal the following summer.
Then it all sort of fell apart. Mexico grew soft. It qualified for the World Cup only because the U.S. decided to go for it in a meaningless (for the Americans) game at Panama, and then Mexico lost to the Panamanians in the 2013 Gold Cup semis. A ‘B’ team went winless in what arguably was the easiest group at the 2015 Copa América. Since defeating Guatemala, 3-0, at the end of May, Mexico is 0-2-5. Now playing in black or white kits, El Tri fails to look the part in more ways than one.
The pressure will be on coach Miguel Herrera to win this Gold Cup, and he’ll be challenged by the absence of injured defender Héctor Moreno and forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, who fractured his collarbone last week.
There’s still plenty of firepower. Dos Santos, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela—who finally ended his international exile last fall—can do damage. Whether Mexico can find its rhythm and summon the steel to win a tournament, however, remains to be seen. A favorable draw provides Mexico with a clear path to the final, assuming the U.S. and Costa Rica win their groups.
Will it ever be Central America’s turn?
There’s talent in Central America. Costa Rica got out of a World Cup group that featured three former champions and made it to the quarterfinals last summer. Honduras is 2-3-1 against the U.S. since 2010 and Panama ousted Mexico in last summer’s Gold Cup.
Yet none have broken through to lift the trophy. Frequent champions under CONCACAF’s older competition systems, Central American nations have been shut out in the Gold Cup era. They’ve come close. Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama (twice) each have lost the final to the U.S. Honduras and Panama (in 2005) fell on penalties.
Will the drought finally end this year?
Costa Rica, the Central American champion, has tested itself against the likes of Colombia and Spain this year and boasts an attack led by familiar faces Álvaro Saborío, Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. Star midfielder Celso Borges established himself at Deportivo La Coruña after a January transfer, but goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Los Ticos’ savior last summer, is out with an Achilles injury.
If games go according to form, Costa Rica will meet the U.S. in the semifinals.
Honduras and Panama are in Group A with the U.S. and Haiti, and both will be eager to avoid advancing to the quarterfinals as the third-place team, which likely would mean a quarterfinal against Mexico. Winners of two of its past 12 games, Honduras hasn’t been in great form. But it fields dangerous young attackers like Anderlecht’s Andy Najar, formerly of D.C. United, and Olimpia’s Anthony Lozano. Panama has a veteran team that will be hoping to salve its World Cup heartbreak. This may be the last Gold Cup run for veteran forwards Blas Pérez and Luis Tejada.