CINCINNATI — There is a tendency in international soccer to extract meaning from every game. The absence of regular matches and the enormous importance of the World Cup have the effect. Externally, that can lead to an unproductive process that encourages overreaction and unanswered questions.
Take for example the US men’s team’s Gold Cup quarterfinal match against Canada on Sunday night at TQL Stadium. An incredible crowd gathered to provide a high-stakes atmosphere and a chaotic series of events for a night to remember. In the span of about an hour of real time, the USA scored what looked like a late game-winner, conceded a tying penalty, fell in overtime, got their own random equalizer, and then advanced on penalties ( 3-2) after the goal. Draw 2-2.
It was entertaining. It was fun and, well, that’s about it. The only material impact is that the US now heads to San Diego to play Panama in the semifinals on Wednesday. The USA was the better team and deserved to win, but the game was hard work and not exactly an announcement of what high-level soccer looks like.
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To have expected otherwise would have been an admission of naivete. With an interim coach and a speculative roster, this tournament was never going to be a collection of clean, well-coached performances. Instead, the value of this tournament is in exposing players to the arena and helping them understand what it takes to compete in these types of arenas.
“We have built a team that never gives up,” midfielder Gianluca Busio said. “Even with guys who are out of season and guys who are in their season, it’s a good combination and I think it shows how far we’ve come as a group.”
Why the USMNT should be concerned about Panama
Hérculez Gómez shares the concerns that he believes Panama will bring to USMNT ahead of their clash on Thursday.
The sentiment Busio shared was consistent with what several other players conveyed after the win. Brandon Vázquez, who scored to put the USA up 1-0 in the 88th minute, spoke of the team’s resilience. Left back DeJuan Jones praised the culture and brotherhood. Maybe all of that is easy to take for granted, but it’s not always a given.
“From the very beginning, it’s been about giving all these players a chance to navigate group play, navigate knockouts,” interim coach BJ Callaghan said. “So when we look at the players in the future, as we prepare for [the World Cup in] 2026, everyone is prepared to make an impact.”
It’s a logical approach, even if only a few of the players on this list seemingly have a realistic chance of becoming the team’s top contributors by 2026.
Goalie Matt Turner is the obvious exception. The established starter is the main link between the Gold Cup team and the first-choice version that posted a win against Canada’s best team in the Nations League final last month. Turner had the option of returning to Arsenal before the team’s pre-season, but he advocated staying in the United States, playing a few games and taking a leadership role.
“When you’re in these types of tournaments, you’re only in a group for a short period of time,” Turner said. “So in these games, you learn a lot about yourself. And I think about us, trusting the process, trusting the plays, trusting all the work we do.”
“You can’t simulate the intensity of knockout-style games. The more experience the guys in our player pool have of playing in knockout games and playing in knockout atmospheres, the better for American soccer overall.”
Turner is a good example of that. He pointed out that the last time he was in the net during a shootout was in the MLS Cup playoffs with the New England Revolution, who were eliminated by NYCFC.
“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Turner said. “Like he really needed to have a big time.”
Against Canada, it was different. Despite conceding an injury time penalty, Turner was confident and enjoyed the moment.
“Going into penalties, it’s level and I felt like I was going to be able to stay and wait and react on a couple of them,” he said. “I had no penalty plots in my head or notes in my water bottle. I was just concentrating on the moment. I was able to stay upright and saving one in the middle early in the shootout is really important.”
His presence has a calming effect on the rest of the team. “I think he has an aura,” said Jones, a former New England teammate. “I think he even threw the [Canada] guys out Still not saving him, they crashed into the crossbar. I think they are afraid that I will save him. He was huge for us tonight and that’s what we expect from him.”
Expect a similar type of game against Panama on Wednesday. For the US to advance to Sunday’s final, it should take another huge effort that tests each individual’s will to compete. And if the cliffhanger over Canada was any indicator, that bodes well for the USMNT.