It once again wasn't pretty, but the USMNT got a late goal from Gyasi Zardes against Qatar at Q2 Stadium in Austin, to advance to the Gold Cup final. Here are some observations from a hard fought 1-0 victory for USA.
It's not usually a good thing when your goalkeeper is the man of the match, but Matt Turner single-handedly kept the US in the game in the first half. The American defense has been the strength of this team throughout the tournament. Despite their 4th clean sheet in the Gold Cup, the backline was a bit shaky in this first half, and gifted Qatar some early opportunities. Two incredible saves for Turner kept the score deadlocked and preserved USA's win. Turner didn't save the penalty that Qatar earned in the 2nd half, eventually kicked well over the bar, but he did psych out the penalty taker a bit.
“I made sure I let him know that I’ve been watching his penalties. I mimicked his run up on my way back to goal just to mess with him a little bit.” Said Turner after the match. (Also props to Kellyn Acosta for icing the kicker with pure forms of shithousery)
Is Turner playing himself into the discussion for a starting role with the USMNT for World Cup Qualifying?
The US only had three shots on goal in this one, and two of them came after the substitutes were made. The game quickly changed in the 63rd minute, when Daryl Dike, Shaq Moore and Gianluca Busio were subbed off for Gyasi Zardes, Reggie Cannon and Cristian Roldan, in a triple substitution. The team began to look dangerous getting forward, taking advantage of a tired Qatar team late in the match. But it was the move that brought Nicolas Gioachinni and Eryk Williamson that really made things interesting for the US. Both of those players combined in the build up, which included a beautiful assist from Gioachinni, to set up the Zardes game winner on 86 minutes. All of Berhalter's subs were successful and the players made an instant impact on the game. How will this affect the lineup for Sunday's final in Vegas?
"We need to work quickly over the next 2 days to see who is ready and who is fully fit. It's a very quick turnaround so there may be some changes.” said Berhalter after the game.
The US coach also opened his press conference by apologizing to the fourth official for his outburst after the goal. I get it, and he was right to apologize, but I loved it.
Another game where Daryl Dike just looks flat and to be frank, looks a bit injured and/or overworked. Dike had one really great opportunity early in the second half, but the Qatar keeper ran off his line and blocked his shot. He misplayed passes, didn't get into space in the box on several occasions and did not take advantage of his size. We know how talented Dike is but at this point going into a final, Zardes may be favored just on form alone, especially after getting the winner against Qatar. Dike has played so much soccer since becoming a professional exactly one year ago. Not to mention his time in the ever physical Championship in England when he was on loan at Barnsley. Could the workload be taking a toll?
Gregg Berhalter said after the win, "Part of the objective of this tournament, was to give our young, highly talented players experience. We’ve done that and we’re still doing that.”
This is the most important aspect of this tournament for the USMNT. Everyone looks at the results as they should because this is a results-driven business. But what this Gold Cup is doing is continuing to develop depth in the American player pool. The experience these players are acquiring is priceless, and we're starting to see competition rising to the occasion, as players look to lock up roster spots for World Cup Qualifying. The depth we are seeing now is like nothing we've seen in US Soccer. Players like Matt Turner, Miles Robinson, Sam Vines, Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta and Daryl Dike are all proving to be worthy of consideration for what is the "A" team for the USA, which we'll see come September as they fight for a spot in the 2022 World Cup.
On to Vegas for the Gold Cup final against Mexico. It's usually a pretty good scene when these two meet. Let's have some fun.