MLS players dominated the spotlight at the Gold Cup.
From the electric play of Alphonso Davies in the group stage to the game-changing influence of Clint Dempsey in the knockout rounds, the league's representatives put their stamp on this tournament at every step of the way.
They were especially prominent in the final, where the USbeat Jamaica 2-1 to lift their sixth Gold Cup. Sixteen of the 22 players that started the game play in MLS or belong to MLS clubs, and all three goals in the game came from MLS players.
Here are my top 10 from the tournament:
10. Kelyn Rowe
In a fairly lackluster group stage, Rowe was one of the few bright spots for the US, providing much needed vision, craft, and rapidity on the outside. It was a surprise to see him sent back early to the New England Revolution to make room for a knockout round replacement. We should have seen more of him.
The 22-year-old showed some of his up-and-down Seattle form with the US, but Bruce Arena was rewarded for his patience with the Stanford product, with Morris delivering the tournament-winning goal in the final. Morris improved as the tournament went along, scoring two goals against a feisty Martinique side and then the dramatic winner against Jamaica.
Jamaica put in some organized defensive performances throughout the tournament, and the New England midfielder was a big reason why. He brought an important sense of stability in central midfield, breaking up play and supporting the attack. He also came up big in the final, beating Morris on a corner kick to score Jamaica’s only goal.
A knockout round call-up, Altidore provided the US with an important physical presence in the attack and quality link-up play that they didn’t have in the group stage. In three knockout games, the Toronto FC striker scored two goals: the winner in the semifinal against Costa Rica and a thunderous free kick that gave the US a 1-0 lead against Jamaica in the final.
The New York Red Bulls fullback provided the shock win over Mexico with a 24-yard, Maradona-esque free-kick goal. It was historic and sublime. Lawrence, who also had two assists in the Gold Cup, was very solid throughout the tournament, offering one bustling, non-stop performance after another, which typified this Jamaican team.
Mattocks hasn’t ever fully blossomed in MLS, but he had a good tournament despite not having a great deal of support and fizzling out at the end. The Portland Timbers attacker was the team’s best outfield player, scoring two goals in the group stage and then providing two assists in the 2-1 win over Canada in the quarterfinals.
In the group stage, the US were often slow and methodical through the midfield. Nagbe’s arrival in the knockout rounds immediately changed that. His positional versatility and ability to navigate tight spaces and accelerate play made the US considerably more difficult to defend against.
The 16-year-old has Canadian fans starting to get excited about their men’s team. Tied for the top scorer in the tournament with three goals, two of his tallies came against lowly French Guiana, but his composure in front of goal and ability to finish chances at very high speeds is impressive. When 1-v-1, the Vancouver Whitecaps phenom is a constant menace.
Although only appearing in the knockout stage, Dempsey was the most lethal player in the tournament. In three appearances, two off the bench, he had a goal and two assists, and nearly had another goal in the final. Among MLS players at the tournament, his quality in the attacking third was second to none.
1. Andre Blake
It doesn’t happen often that a finalists’ best player is the starting goalkeeper, but that’s how it went with Jamaica. Without reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake in net, the Reggae Boyz wouldn’t have gone nearly as far. The Philadelphia Union backstop had a spectacular tournament, making huge saves in almost every game. If he doesn’t come off early in the final with an injury, things might have ended differently.