When Gregg Berhalter and his staff put together the U.S. Men's National Team roster for the Concacaf Gold Cup, they wanted to make sure that the players, many of them with little to no international experience, got a taste of competition at the international level.
He always wanted to be playing for the title.
The U.S. head coach got his wish and then some.
Entering Sunday night's final against Mexico, the USA has earned four 1-0 shutout wins, with the 6-1 group stage victory against Martinique was the lone exception.
No team has accomplished that feat in the history of the Gold Cup, which spans 16 editions since 1991. The previous Gold Cup record was three 1-0 wins, jointly held by the USA (1993) and Jamaica (2015).
The USMNT, which has reached a record 12th Gold Cup final, secured 1-0 victories in Group A against Haiti and Canada and then in the knockout round vs. Jamaica (quarterfinals) and Qatar (semifinals).
Those close encounters have allowed players to sweat and endure some difficult matches and adversity while gaining invaluable experience as Berhalter looks to put together a roster for the start of FIFA World Cup Qualifying in September.
Sharing the wealth
Scoring heroes have come from all over the pitch. Five different players have been responsible for game-winning goals during the tournament:
Defender Sam Vines scored in the eighth minute against Haiti on July 11.
Forward Daryl Dike recorded the first of his brace against Martinique in the 14th minute.
Defender Shaq Moore scored the fastest goal in USMNT and Gold Cup history when he found the back of the net only 20 seconds into the match against Canada on July 18.
Forward Matthew Hoppe struck for his first international goal with a header in the 83rd minute vs. Jamaica in the quarterfinals on July 25.
Second-half substitute and forward Gyasi Zardes was a little more dramatic, connecting in the 86th minute in the semifinal thriller against Qatar.
.@Nicholas_gioacc 🔗 @gyasinho = 🔥— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) July 30, 2021
That connection on last night's goal has been growing between Nico and Gyasi throughout #GoldCup21.
More on how they linked up to push the 🇺🇸 into Sunday's @GoldCup Final. 👇 pic.twitter.com/32XrEiQlEK
Zardes and Dike pace the USA with two goals apiece. Nicholas Gioacchini, Miles Robinson, Hoppe, Moore and Vines each have one.
It wasn’t just goalscorers who added their name to the history books. Gianluca Busio, Eryk Williamson, Hoppe and Cristian Roldan registered their first career assists during the 6-1 win against Martinique.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner, who began the competition with exactly one international appearance, has been superb.
He has backstopped all the victories and has four clean sheets, tying him with Mexico's Alfredo Talavera for the tournament lead while also equaling the USMNT Gold Cup record, jointly held by Kasey Keller (2002) and Tim Howard (2011).
The 27-year-old New England Revolution keeper has registered 18 saves in five matches, and holds a miniscule 0.20 goals-against average.
There's nothing like being thrown into the deep end of the pool to see how many will swim.
In the opening win over Haiti, substitutes Gianluca Busio and James Sands made their international debuts and were among nine players to make their first appearance in official competition. That included goalkeeper Matt Turner, defenders Shaq Moore, Miles Robinson, Sam Vines, midfielders Nicholas Gioacchini, Eryk Williamson and forward Daryl Dike.
Forward Matthew Hoppe earned his USMNT debut against Martinique, joining George Bello, Busio, Sands and Eryk Williamson as five first-time starters in the match. Defender Donovan Pines then became the 47th different player to make his USMNT debut under Berhalter when he entered in the second half.
Young, younger and youngest
The USMNT fielded its youngest lineup in an official competition in the win against Martinique on July 15, as the Starting XI averaged 23 years, 84 days.
In the quarterfinal 10 days later, Berhalter put out the second-youngest USMNT lineup for a Knockout Round match (23 years, 280 days). The third youngest came four days later in the semifinal against Qatar, as the USMNT manager deployed the same XI that faced the Reggae Boyz just four days earlier (23 years, 284 days).
Seven of the players to start the Knockout Round matches were 24 or younger: Busio (19), Hoppe (20), Dike and Sands (21), Vines (22), Moore and Robinson (24).
It was the first time the USA used the same starters in consecutive games since the 2019 Gold Cup semifinal and final.
Counting the wins
The USA enters the final on an eight-game winning streak. That is the second-longest winning streak in team history, behind a 12-game run from June 2 to Aug. 14, 2013.
It also was Berhalter's 25th victory as head coach, reaching the milestone in 34 games – faster than any other USMNT manager.
Some interesting tidbits:
- Zardes recorded his 10th international assist against Haiti, becoming the second fastest USMNT player to reach 10 goals and 10 assists (57 caps). U.S. legend Landon Donovan was the quickest. The veteran forward’s two goals during the tournament place him fifth all-time among USMNT players in Gold Cup scoring (6 goals), while he now sits tied for fifth on the USA’s all-time Gold Cup caps list (21).
- Goalkeeper Matt Turner and defender Miles Robinson are the only two players to have played in every minute of the 2021 Gold Cup, anchoring a defense that has conceded only one goal, and none from the run of play.
- Kellyn Acosta has played in 13th consecutive internationals matches. He is the only player to appear in each of the USA’s 12 games in 2021.
- Berhalter has used 21 of 23 players. The only ones who have not seen any action have been goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson.