US exit in Panama was embarrassing but the real story is elsewhere | UNITED STATES

Jhe Gold Cup, Concacaf’s biennial financial backbone, inspires a very different vibe around the United States men’s national team compared to the World Cup. Superiority, not inferiority, dominates the conversation.

After all the heartbreak over the shortcomings displayed in the Round of 16 loss to the Netherlands in Qatar, here’s a tournament that raises concerns if the Americans don’t win it every time, given their status as hosts. eternal and the low caliber of most of their opponents.

And this month they haven’t, losing on penalties to Panama in the semi-finals on Wednesday. It is only the second time in the last 10 Gold Cups that the United States has failed to reach the final, with Mexico taking on Panama on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

It was also only the second loss for the United States in 12 games since the World Cup, the other a 2-1 friendly loss to Serbia in January in which both teams were under-squad.

Interim USA head coach BJ Callaghan blamed himself for what he described as a first-half tactical miscalculation that gave a strong and well-drilled Panama the initiative, while the players were tired after their quarter-final against Canada went into extra time. and penalties only three days earlier.

Despite some large crowds, the Gold Cup becomes for the United States a facsimile of a major tournament, a cover version of a real competition. As in 2021, USA have essentially named a shadow team in order to give Europe-based players a break – meaning the best. Even the manager was a substitute, with Gregg Berhalter not returning to his permanent duties until after the tournament.

For the United States, the Gold Cup is primarily useful as a test of team depth against regional rivals and as an opportunity for work experience; 14 of the 23 players had less than 10 caps before the tournament. Only a few of those exposed over the past few weeks are likely to keep their place in the team the next time Berhalter names a full squad. One – Matt Turner – became a star in the 2021 Gold Cup (which the United States won) and progressed to become Qatar’s first-choice goalkeeper. Thus, the occasional breakthrough is possible.

New York City FC defensive midfielder James Sands, 23, has made his case as a viable understudy for Tyler Adams, while Cade Cowell, the 19-year-old winger who plays for the San Jose Earthquakes , scored a composed goal against Trinidad. & Tobago, picking up a smooth back pass, rounding the goalkeeper and embroiling a defender for their first international strike. Jalen Neal, the 19-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy centre-back, is also one to watch.

Jesús Ferreira, who needed a makeover after an unfortunate 45 minutes in his unexpected departure against the Netherlands last year, became the first player in USMNT history to score hat-tricks in successive international matches. The FC Dallas striker and scourge of the small Caribbean islands added to his goalscoring streak against St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago with a fine volley against Panama, his seven Gold Cup goals equaling the Clint Dempsey’s USMNT tournament record set in 2015.

With 15 goals and four assists in 23 appearances, the 22-year-old became the fastest player to reach double-digit goals in USMNT history. But until he can prove his effectiveness against elite nations, he’s likely still behind bright new starlet Folarin Balogun and a reborn Ricardo Pepi on the depth chart.

With MLS-based players being the exception, not the rule when Berhalter picks his toughest starting lineup, the USMNT’s center of gravity has shifted to Europe. In the run-up to the all-important 2026 World Cup, the machinations of player agents and club managers as they resolve volatile situations for many of Berhalter’s key men this summer are likely to prove more important to the prospects of team than everything that happened during the Gold Cup. .

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