Stoppage Time: Gold Cup about much more than a trophy

(Sports Network) - Two years ago at this time Jurgen Klinsmann was named the head coach of the United States men's national team, breathing life into a side that had gone stale under previous boss Bob Bradley.

But after the U.S. won just one of Klinsmann's first six games in charge, it wasn't long before the criticism followed.

Over the past two years the Americans have had their struggles, but have also registered historic victories at Italy and Mexico while putting together the longest winning streak in U.S. soccer history.

So it seems only fitting that Sunday's 1-0 win over Panama in the final of the Gold Cup brought Klinsmann his first trophy as U.S. coach.

"It's always nice winning a trophy. You just always want to win it in a way that you have the feeling that you deserve it," Klinsmann said following the final, which he had to watch from the stands because of a suspension. "This team definitely deserves the trophy, they were by far the best team of the Gold Cup, and that's what they already said when we had our team talk. You do what you did the last four weeks, you deserve to win this tournament."

There is no doubt that the U.S. deserved to win the tournament after outscoring the opposition by a combined total of 20-4 in six games.

The fact that the Americans were crowned as the top team in the CONCACAF region by winning the Gold Cup is not really a surprise. But what is more impressive is the fact that they did so with their "B team".

Klinsmann left most of his regular starters at home for the tournament, instead opting for younger, more inexperienced players to fill his roster.

The other heavyweight in the region, Mexico, did the same. Yet El Tri struggled throughout the competition and was bounced by Panama in the semifinals.

Winning a trophy is always the goal in any tournament, but this time it was far from the biggest story for the Americans.

The return of Landon Donovan to the national team fold trumps all others as the 31-year-old came back from a self-imposed sabbatical to shine.

Donovan has taken no part in the final round of World Cup qualifying for the U.S., and his relationship with Klinsmann because of that decision is something that has been a topic of discussion.

The future of the 31-year-old with the national team was uncertain at the start of the tournament, but after he scored five goals and assisted on eight more while being named the outstanding player of the Gold Cup, there should be little doubt now.

Donovan appeared refreshed and ready to once again lead the team, and he hinted after Sunday's match that there is still plenty more to come.

"This is not the end," said Donovan after he assisted on the winning goal in Sunday's final. "This is just the end of the tournament but hopefully this is just the beginning for a lot of us and we want to be part of the bigger picture."

That bigger picture is less than one year away, and it will take place next summer in Brazil at the World Cup.

And in addition to the resurgence of Donovan, the next biggest story from the Gold Cup is the deep pool of talent that Klinsmann will be able to draw from.

By giving a rest to many of his regulars, Klinsmann handed opportunities to a host of new faces, with a number of those players making the most of their chance.

Eddie Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud and Clarence Goodson were just a few of the players who showed that they belong in the discussion for a seat on the plane to Brazil next summer.

Many of the players from this Gold Cup team will be watching the World Cup from home, but they will still have a role to play in helping the team prepare for the tournament.

Increased competition for spots on the roster will only help the overall level of play as the team gets ready for the World Cup. And with so many good options at his disposal, Klinsmann will have the chance to rotate his squad to keep the players fresh.

The return of Donovan and emergence of new options were both important, but maybe just as vital is the fact that the U.S. simply kept its momentum going.

Sunday's win over Panama marked the 11th straight victory for the Americans, who seem to be growing in confidence with each outing.

The final stretch of World Cup qualifying will take place in September and October with the U.S. entering that last run perched atop the group.

DaMarcus Beasley served as captain for the U.S. in Sunday's final, and after playing in three previous World Cups for the Americans, the veteran knows a thing or two about preparation leading up to the tournament.

"You want to catch a good vibe on the last year of qualifying and before the World Cup," Beasley said. "Winning 11 games internationally is big. You want to start peaking at this time before the World Cup. While we are still in qualifying you want that confidence, and right now in the USA we have that confidence; the confidence that we can beat anybody and hopefully it stays until Brazil."

The vibes in the U.S. camp are very good at the moment, and the Gold Cup only helped that wave of momentum to grow.


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