The United States claimed its sixth CONCACAF championship, with the coach going 14 games unbeaten since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann eight months ago
Remember when Jurgen Klinsmann was the head coach of the U.S. national team? Although it’s only been eight months since the German manager was fired, it’s hard to imagine the U.S. without Bruce Arena leading the way.
Arena, who left the LA Galaxy for his second stint in charge of the U.S., has the national team rolling after a disastrous start to the World Cup qualifying hexagonal stage, which ultimately led the way to Klinsmann’s departure after five years. There’s no more off-field drama surrounding the team and no more worries about the possibility of missing the 2018 World Cup.
The U.S. hasn’t tasted defeat since Arena was hired in November. After beating Trinidad & Tobago and playing to a scoreless draw against rival Mexico at Azteca in June, the U.S. went unbeaten in six Gold Cup matches, with a 2-1 win over Jamaica in Wednesday’s final capping off a successful summer. Arena hasn’t lost in 14 matches, with two September qualifiers approaching.
Although the 2017 version of the bi-annual Gold Cup could be viewed as a watered-down tournament, with Mexico bringing a reserve side and Costa Rica dealing with injuries, the U.S. will still claim the title as the top team in CONCACAF. And the Americans are now inching closer to matching Mexico’s seven title with six of their own since the competition began in 1991.
While Klinsmann wanted to build his teams around European-based Americans and often shunned MLS players, leading to public disputes, Arena has made it clear from his first day back that MLS stars would play a major role in his squads moving forward. During the Gold Cup and qualifying, Arena tapped deep into the player pool and got the best out of the players available.
An inexperienced side carried the U.S. through the group stage with a pair of wins and a draw, and then it was time for Arena to bring in the big guns to finish off the job. Taking advantage of a rule that allows teams to bring in up to six replacement players ahead of the knockout round, Arena added veterans Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard.
Along the way to the final, Altidore, Dempsey and Bradley carried the load as the team’s playmakers, with either one or two of them playing a part in the USA’s four goals during the quarterfinals and semifinals. Howard, who is still going strong at 38 years old, kept clean sheets as both matches ended with 2-0 scorelines.
On Wednesday, Altidore put on a display in the first half to give the Americans the lead with a stunning free kick from just outside the box. Shortly after halftime though, Howard conceded his first goal of the tournament when Jamaica’s Je-Vaughn Watson slipped in to score off a corner kick to tie the game and shock a packed crowd at Levi’s Stadium.
But Arena was able to get the job done. After applying pressure on the Reggae Boyz throughout the second half, his side would find the winner through Jordan Morris in the 88th minute, and the U.S. is in a better position moving forward.
The U.S. is stronger than it was eight months ago. Welcome back, Bruce.