The most exciting thing about this Gold Cup from a US Men's National Team perspective is getting to see the young and talented depth that now exists in the American player pool. Of course, this is essentially a “B” squad for the USA, with many of the projected starters already participating in preseason with their European club teams. But getting to see these young players wearing the shirt and fighting for a trophy offers an opportunity to see what they can do when the pressure is on. Now there are most definitely a few players that could very well play themselves into the “A” squad with solid performances this summer, with the goal of making the roster for World Cup qualifying which begins in September.
USA advanced to the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup as Group B winners, notching three victories in the first round, but still had some performances that were less than convincing. They recorded wins over Haiti, Martinique and Canada, accomplishing their targets of winning the group and finishing with the best goal difference in the tournament. But they’ll no doubt have to take it to another level in the quarterfinals as they’re set to face Jamaica or Costa Rica.
Here are some of the players that have shined for the USMNT so far in the tournament.
Daryl Dike: Before we get to how Dike has performed, I’d like to note that a Spanish broadcaster on TUDN nicknamed him “El Tanque” or “The Tank” and I’m all about it!
The Orlando City striker is a hot commodity and will likely be playing in Europe later this year, after his impressive showing on loan at Barnsley this winter. He banged in two goals for USA in their matchup against Martinique, and showed his wide range of abilities, especially n the air.
Dike struggled a bit in the most important game of the group stage against Canada, but the 1-0 win was really a struggle for the whole team. Some questionable decisions by head coach Gregg Berhalter might have contributed to this as Dike was played as part of a two striker attack alongside Gyasi Zardes. (a decision that still does not make sense to me) It will be interesting to see how he is played moving forward in the knockout stage, but there is no doubt that Dike has placed himself in the conversation not only to start for this version of the National Team, but also for the team that will be competing for a spot in the 2022 World Cup, starting in September.
Miles Robinson: Center back is a position of concern for the USMNT, and 24 year old Atlanta United star Miles Robinson is showing he could be a solution. Veteran John Brooks looks to be the only sure starter at center back for the American squad long term. With the achilles injury to the Red Bulls' Aaron Long, and the up and down form of Genk defender Mark McKenzie, Robinson could play himself into a starting role.
In the matchup against Canada, Robinson was the team's most important player, putting out fires right and left against the opponent's speedy attack. Basically a ball clearing machine in defense for the Americans who were under pressure most of the second half.
"Miles has taken the next step." said head coach Gregg Berhalter after the game. "Now we hope in the knockout stages, he can repeat this type of performance."
While his defensive prowess is most important, Miles also got on the score sheet against Martinique with a header of his own.
Sam Vines: While outside back is a rich position in the American player pool, (not necessarily left back?) Sam Vines has proven to be a player that we cannot ignore. The Colorado Rapids star looks to be on his way to Belgian side Royal Antwerp FC after the Gold Cup according to reports, and he's no doubt impressed his new bosses in this tournament.
As an attacking left back, his attributes have been on display. He scored his first international goal for his country to open the tournament against Haiti.
He regularly bombs down the left side of the field to provide width and service into the box. But the biggest question mark for Vines was his ability as a defender. Against Canada, he showed out on that side of the pitch, dealing with and shutting down Tajon Buchanan, who may have been the most dangerous player on the field that night. He helped preserve the clean sheet and showed why he should also be considered for the USMNT moving forward.
The team has been dealing with a few injuries, most recently Nashville defender Walker Zimmerman who had to be subbed off against Canada with a hamstring injury. But the team will have a week to recover and get fit before the quarterfinals, which will be played Sunday, July 25th in Arlington, Texas. Stay tuned to Star Spangled Soccer for more reports on the team's journey through the Gold Cup, and much more.