Is it about fine-tuning tactics and determining which players can factor into World Cup qualifying before Qatar 2022? What defines success as they look to wrestle regional bragging rights back from Mexico? Does anything short of raising a trophy represent a failure?
Regarding the latter question, Extratime co-host Charlie Davies said to pump the brakes, emphasizing that it's more about the substance behind the performances than the final result.
"I think for this group, it's just giving them experience, seeing how far they get," Davies said. "I think the expectation is for sure you get into at least the semifinal. I would expect and think and hope for the US plays a final against Mexico because Mexico's bringing their A team and they're coming in to win and now they've put all the pressure on themselves to win it. So I think for this US team, you're just coming in, you're looking for experience and you're looking to put in some good performances."
That perspective was echoed by co-host David Gass, who said the program's Concacaf Nations League triumph earlier this year shows that the USMNT's first-choice group can succeed in high-stakes situations. With that knowledge, Gass feels the Gold Cup is all about preparing for the looming WCQs in early September.
"The focus of this year was World Cup qualifying, which comes in September," Gass said. "How prepared can you be? But for what's happened over the last five years, the US needed to prove that they could win something and that this national team could still be relevant in this region. So they needed to win one thing this summer. They have already done that.
"So if that was your expectation, then they have already accomplished that. I would not have been saying this if they had not won the Nations League. So now you can shift it and say: How do you use this tournament to best prepare yourself for World Cup qualifying? Because with these young players, they'd never won anything. It was fair to say, 'I needed proof of concept.'
"But you have that proof. So you can't then come out and say: 'Well, they need to win everything.' Yeah, great, every team should go [to win], and to Charlie's point, the expectation in camp should be that they win Gold Cup. But for all of us on the outside, if we start jumping off bridges because they don't, then we are completely misunderstanding what all of this is for."