The 2015 Gold Cup did not go as planned for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Missing out on the final for the first time since 2003 and finishing in fourth place surely did not sit well with the squad.
Fast forward two years and much has changed in and around the USMNT. However, the status quo was restored when it comes to qualifying for Gold Cup finals, as the U.S. will play for its sixth CONCACAF title on Wednesday after defeating Costa Rica, 2-0, on Saturday night in Arlington.
The likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley have each played in multiple Gold Cup finals. Wednesday will be Dempsey’s fourth, Bradley’s third and Altidore’s second.
Dempsey may have plenty of experience in big games and has nothing left to prove, but he understands the importance of this particular final for the entire squad, including himself.
“It would be great for us to win a trophy on home soil,” Dempsey said after Saturday’s win. “It’s an opportunity to kind of keep building the confidence going into the next four games of World Cup qualifying and making sure we put ourselves in a position to qualify for Russia.”
This USMNT squad is a mix of youth and more established players. Giving the youngsters some exposure in a final can test their mental resolve and show them what it takes to succeed. However, for 34-year-old Dempsey, he may not return to this stage after this tournament is over, so the entire team knew they had to capitalize.
“We talked [before the semifinal] about this idea that we were 90 minutes from a final,” said Bradley. “The chance to play in a final isn’t something that comes around every day and we wanted to take full advantage.”
“I’m thrilled to be a part of this team and to be representing this team in a final that, for sure, will be a special event and I’m really excited,” added Altidore, who scored the opening goal in Saturday’s semifinal.
One of the younger players who may get an opportunity in the final is Kellyn Acosta, who started in his hometown against Costa Rica. Acosta played next to Bradley, who was his third different partner in midfield in this tournament alone after Dax McCarty and Christian Roldan.
Playing with different players in every game is difficult enough, but this Gold Cup is also Acosta’s first major tournament with the USMNT. The FC Dallas midfielder was unexpectedly not as sharp in the group stage as a result.
Thankfully for Acosta and the USMNT, there was a significant improvement in the semis. The 22-year-old was active on defense, stringing passes together and pushing forward when necessary. He is hoping that showing leads to some minutes in Wednesday’s final.
“I’m excited,” Acosta said. “If I get some minutes, if I start, I play, whatever it is, I’m going to give it my utmost ability, all of my energy into it, so hopefully we can just kind of recover and regroup and build from there and go into the final with fresh legs and give it our all and hopefully come away with the result.
“This is going to be a huge game. It’s my first major tournament with the team, first huge game playing in a meaningful game for some silverware, so it’s definitely going to be a crazy experience.”
The intensity of the match will be high as the USMNT will face Jamaica in the final. The Reggae Boyz defeated the U.S. 2-1 in the 2015 Gold Cup semifinals. Revenge will surely be on the minds of some players.
Rematch aside, the USMNT is relishing the chance to play in another final, especially with some pivotal World Cup qualifiers on the horizon.