CHESTER, Pa.—The U.S. national team was well past writing a storybook ending to this disastrous CONCACAF Gold Cup when DaMarcus Beasley, 33 and a veteran of four World Cups, stepped to the penalty spot hoping to keep his side alive in Saturday’s bronze medal game.
Even victory over Panama would not have obscured the disappointment of the Americans’ two-year decline from unbeaten regional champion to this consolation match played at half-empty PPL Park. But a Beasley miss, on what was probably the last touch of his historic international career, would be cruel salt in the wound. It would have been too much.
Fittingly, Panama goalkeeper Luis Mejia, a 24-year-old playing only because starter Jaime Penedo was suspended, dived to his left and made the save. Los Canaleros won the shootout and with it, the bronze medal.
Beasley had unretired from the national team in order to help the U.S. during the Gold Cup’s knockout rounds. He was injured in his first practice. Finally healthy enough to play against Panama, Beasley's second-half appearance had been trumpeted the day before by coach Jurgen Klinsmann as an opportunity to provide the legendary winger with a proper sendoff. Like the U.S.’s Gold Cup run, those plans ultimately fizzled. Beasley certainly wasn’t to blame for this mess, but his week-plus with the national team was sadly symbolic. Pretty much nothing went right.
Outplayed by Panama throughout the 1–1 draw and outscored, 3–2, in the tiebreaker, the U.S. now must pick up the pieces from a discouraging summer. On a high following the June wins over Netherlands and Germany, Klinsmann’s team managed to put together a consistent and impressive, 90-minute performance only once at this Gold Cup. And that came against Cuba, an overmatched team wracked by defections. The Americans’ 3-1-2 record and +7 goal differential (+1 excluding the Cuba game) compares to a 6-0-0 mark and +16 differential at the 2013 Gold Cup. The U.S. took the fewest number of shots in this year’s 12-team group stage. Those numbers certainly don’t scream “progress.”
But Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, who spoke after Saturday’s game, believe the national team remains on track. That was evident when Klinsmann was asked whether the squad he takes to this fall’s critical Confederations Cup playoff would be similar to the one that failed to medal at the Gold Cup for only the second time in 13 tournaments. (The U.S. will meet the winner of Sunday’s final, Mexico or Jamaica, on Oct. 9 to determine CONCACAF’s entrant in the 2017 tournament).
“It won’t be totally different. It will be very similar,” Klinsmann said.
Why? Because the manager feels that this week’s results don’t tell the whole story.
“I think other teams were really competitive. Other teams who were in the competition wanted badly to win it and there was just a lot of stuff going on outside the field,” Klinsmann said when asked to explain why a team that won the Gold Cup so easily two years ago stumbled so badly.
“There was always a sense of kind of being uncertain of what happens next,” he said. “I think when we talked to our players this morning and I told them, ‘Listen guys, we don’t know what will happen.’ Because every time you go on the field you don’t know what happens with the refs in terms of, either way they go and you feel really sorry for them because they make a mistake, then whatever side [feels wronged] goes at them. This kind of feeling was there from the beginning of this tournament that you always wonder what will happen. So that kind of overshadowed everything that really went on.”
Klinsmann continued, “I think going through it, from our end, we started fine. Got the two wins. We qualified for the quarters. We took care of the quarters and then it happened what happened Wednesday night [in the semifinal against Jamaica]. It took the wind out. That’s just normal. That’s fine. But it shows you also how competitive this region is. Nations that were maybe not regarded as high before the tournament earned a lot of respect.”
Asked about the impact of the uncertainty Klinsmann described, U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan—who was outstanding against Panama and made nine saves as the Americans were outshot, 25-5—said, “Us as players, our job is to go and play and try and win games. Everyone has to deal with it. You find a way to deal with it the best you can … It’s a challenging four weeks, plain and simple, for a number of different reasons. But in saying that, from a soccer standpoint, from a playing standpoint, it wasn’t good enough. We know that. Now we have to make sure we improve going into September and going into October.”
Ever the optimist, Klinsmann said his long-term vision remained intact despite the fact the U.S. still seems far too reliant on Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and whomever is in goal. Dempsey, 32, scored seven Gold Cup goals and when he was off rhythm, as he was against Jamaica on Wednesday, the U.S. was beaten. Bradley remains the linchpin, director and midfield engine. When he’s great, the Americans have a chance to beat anyone. But it seems he has to be in order for the U.S. to find fifth gear. Bradley scored twice at this Gold Cup. The move to MLS certainly hasn’t had an adverse impact on either player’s national team performance, but neither is going to be at his best every night.
Klinsmann has called the year following the World Cup one of “transition,” during which new players’ ability to adapt to the international game is tested. There must be competition for minutes and churn in the pool. But that was supposed to be put on pause for the Gold Cup, a competition where only results matter. And Klinsmann claimed he picked a team capable of winning it. But by and large, the newer players weren’t up to par. Midfielder/forward Gyasi Zardes had a very good group stage but faded in the semifinal. Forward Aron Jóhannsson struggled against Jamaica and again on Saturday. Central defenders Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks were beaten repeatedly in back. Brooks had an especially rough game against Panama, which was playing without its two top attackers. Reserve forward Roberto Nurse, a 31-year-old who appeared six times for Chivas USA back in 2008, blew past Brooks with ease to give Panama a first-half lead.
Dempsey pulled the U.S. level in the 70th minute off a nice assist from substitute midfielder DeAndre Yedlin. But for the next 50 minutes, Panama looked like the team that would score a second. The Americans took the game to penalties thanks in part to goal line clearances by Fabian Johnson and Tim Ream.
“In this tournament, I’d agree. Obviously Clint scored almost all of our goals,” Gulati said when asked about the team’s dependence on two or three key veterans. “If you look at the spring games and the lead-up, Bobby Wood scored a goal and a few other guys that people didn’t know ... We look at all of that as we move forward. There’s no, ‘Hey we were building and we’re still building.’ The Gold Cup was a critical competition. Jurgen knows it. The players know it. We all know it. And we didn’t achieve what we wanted. We go onto the next thing, which is the playoff game and the start of World Cup qualifying.”
Forward. Always forward. Klinsmann coaches with ultimate confidence, and Gulati has confidence in his coach. Bob Bradley, who won his first Gold Cup and then lost in the World Cup’s Round of 16 in overtime, was fired after finishing second at the 2011 continental championship. Klinsmann’s path is almost identical, except he finished fourth at his second Gold Cup.
There are “no parallels,” Gulati said.
“There’s no panic. We’ve won, what, seven of our last 10 games? Drawn two and obviously lost today on penalties and lost one game in that period [to Jamaica]. But we move on,” Gulati said. “We don’t make judgments based on one thing. We don’t go in and renew a [coach’s] contract because we beat Germany and Holland away from home and ‘we’ll make a change here.’”
He continued, “Progress is not linear for anyone. There’s bumps along the way. This is clearly a bump … But that’s the norm for everyone because you don’t go through and win all your games. Is Argentina happy about not qualifying for the Confederations Cup? And Brazil being out? But they don’t panic and throw everything out. We’re making progress in certain areas, and less so in other areas.”
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Gulati didn’t elaborate, while Klinsmann said the “process is ongoing” and he hopes this step back will be followed by “two forward.” He's aiming to field a better team in 2018 than the one that went to Brazil last summer.
“The goal was to win this Gold Cup with the best team available. And that’s what we had. We had [our] best team in the tournament. The only bummer was that Beas got injured on the first day,” Klinsmann said.
It was far from the only bummer. But it was symbolic. As Beasley exits, he’s leaving behind a limping team that has a lot of work to do.
GALLERY: U.S. Soccer in 2015
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.