SANTA CLARA, Calif. – United States national team coach Bruce Arena came into this summer’s Gold Cup tournament looking to see new faces, striving to unearth players who could be of use in the Americans’ remaining qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup. The group stage games were a laboratory of sorts, trying out different combinations and new permutations.
Once the Americans made the knockout rounds, however, the focus shifted to one simple goal:
Grab that trophy.
And when it was over, even if the stakes weren’t as high as they’ll be next year, the celebration seemed similar to what one might expect to find on July 15, 2018 at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
“The Gold Cup is important,” Arena said. “If you’re in it, you’ve got to be in it to win it. And we accomplished that.”
Each member of the US squad had something different to think about as they received their winner’s medal.
Forward Jozy Altidore, whose screaming free kick put the US ahead in the first half, could ponder his injury-ravaged history in tournament play.
“I’m really happy, because I wanted to come in and win this championship,” said Altidore, who was one of the USMNT’s six replacements ahead of the quarterfinals. “It means a lot; people from the outside may take it for granted, but we as players don’t get a lot of chances to win trophies. To me, this is a massive moment.”
Some get more chances than others, of course. Goal-scoring talisman Clint Dempsey is now a three-time champion, having participated in the 2005 and ’07 triumphs before coming back a decade later for more.
“I would say this is the most special because the older you get, you appreciate it more,” Dempsey said.
That was a feeling shared by veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was in net for the 2007 title game against Mexico and wanted to savor his latest – and possibly last – Gold Cup memories.
“As you get older, you realize these come few and far between,” Howard said. “I’ve been very fortunate to go to quite a number of cup finals. I’ve not won as many as I would have liked. There’s a time when you think they’re going to just keep coming. And you realize now that there might not be another one after this. It’s hard to tell the young players that, because they’re young and they think it’s coming again. But for me, I know that this may be my last chance, so it’s beautiful, it’s sweet and I’ll continue to celebrate.”
Howard’s attitude did not go unheeded. Morris, the 22-year-old in his first senior international tournament, spoke like a veteran – albeit one who doesn’t yet have a trophy case to display all his hardware.
“It’s just going in my room,” Morris said of his medal. “But it’s very special, obviously. You don’t get a ton of opportunities to play for championships in your career and you’ve got to take advantage of them. For me to be a part of this team, it’s so special, something you dream about.”