Another Concacaf Gold Cup is in the books, and as usual, positive MLS footprints were found all over the tournament.
Of course, 20 MLS players now have 2021 Gold Cup champion listed on their credits thanks to the United States' run to the crown. Another 19 made it to the final four with Canada or Mexico, 11 scored goals and two players went home with tournament awards (behold the foreshadowing). And several of the guys who helped make up the numbers above shined enough to be seen in a whole new light at the international level.
The tournament's over, so there's no more need for ceremony. Let's get straight to the MLS players who significantly raised their game and their profile at this summer’s Gold Cup, with a nod to those like Colorado Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta (United States), LA Galaxy midfielder Jonathan dos Santos (Mexico) and Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (Jamaica) key standouts as well.
Pay little mind to Bello's so-so Martinique outing. Let's be clear about his other tournament start: Any teenager with wheels and some gusto who gives a fair approximation of a shutdown left back against Jesus Corona and Luis Rodriguez in the Gold Cup final is going to send up smoke signals to a lot of soccer people far away from Atlanta. When called upon to relieve Sam Vines, the 19-year-old Atlanta homegrown left his mark for the USMNT.
With so many top attack agents unavailable, Canada's best idea ended up being to lead Buchanan into space and get runners into the area. He constantly put Gold Cup foes under duress, and his (temporary) equalizer against Mexico was special stuff. The 22-year-old New England speedster had a good amount of transfer heat around him prior to the tournament, but he's now turned it up in Young Player Award style.
A lot of factors went into Canada's daring semifinal run, and one that some overlook is how Miller provided much-needed solidity at the back. The CF Montréal center back made tough stops against strong opponents look easy and always seemed to know when the defense needed a break by dribbling out of pressure on his own. He's been quite good in MLS action this season, but he may have reached a new level at the Gold Cup.
It's never just about the goalkeeper when a team posts five 1-0 wins out of six tries during a tournament run. In this USMNT's run, Robinson coolly led the field players to that stinginess record at this Gold Cup. Like a good neighbor, the Atlanta United center back was always there when the team needed him most. He was the key man in keeping Lucas Cavallini, Almoez Ali and Rogelio Funes Mori off the score sheet. Throw in his final winner to shove Mexico aside, and it's easy to see why some folks are arguing he deserved the tournament's Best Player Award award over El Tri midfielder Hector Herrera
You know, there's scoring in the Gold Cup and then there's coming off the bench in your El Salvador/international debut to strike a surprising winner. At the MLS level, Roldan has gone from "are you sure you want to put him at right back?" to "man, he's actually a good right back!" in a rather short time. It seems like the younger Roldan brother, alongside defender Eriq Zavaleta (Toronto FC) and midfielder Darwin Ceren (Houston Dynamo FC), is due for a big role in La Selecta’s World Cup Qualifying campaign.
It's true the US defensive handyman wasn't as pristine in the USMNT's last two Gold Cup matches as he had been in the three before it. However, playing in the middle of a standard four-man backline is not Sands' ideal usage, and man, those three previous games were impressive. When he can protect the back four or slot centrally into a back five, the New York City FC homegrown steps in when he's supposed to and then offers a safe commute into the attack with his incisive passing game.
We already knew the New England netminder was among the premier MLS goalkeepers, but this Gold Cup was his first true international test. Turner (he of one friendly cap before July) was thrown straight into the deep end and he swam straight to the tournament’s Best Goalkeeper Award. The USMNT backstop made important, timely, eye-catching saves throughout a title run that chalked up five 1-0 victories along the way. Could he unseat Zack Steffen for the No. 1 spot?