The United States beat Panama 1-0 to win their fifth CONCACAF Gold Cup title, giving them their first trophy under manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Even though he was forced to watch from the executive suite as he served a touchline ban during the final. With usual rivals Mexico getting knocked out in the semifinals, the USA rolled through the tournament without much trouble — extending a team record 11-match winning streak in the process.
As perfunctory as it may have seemed for the USA, it feels like the start of a positive new era for the team. Since they last won the Gold Cup in 2007, they suffered excruciating losses in three straight cup finals: succumbing to Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup final after taking a two-goal lead, then losing the 2009 Gold Cup final 5-0 to Mexico and the 2011 Gold Cup final again to Mexico, that by a slightly better score of 4-2.
Though Mexico's inner turmoil kept them from giving the U.S. a chance at another rematch, Panama proved to be a worthy adversary. They kept the match scoreless until Brek Shea tapped in his second career international goal (and second of the tournament) in the 68th minute and that proved to be the difference as the home side failed to finish any of their other chances.
As joyous as overcoming their cup final demons in spite of CONCACAF's controversial decision to ban Klinsmann was for the USA, the day was not without a sad note. In the 23rd minute, eminently likable midfielder and wellspring of positivity Stu Holden, who just returned to the team before the tournament after three knee surgeries that have eaten up the majority of the last two years of his burgeoning career, sprained his other knee and had to be subbed out. When he sat on the bench before heading back to the dressing room to get examined, his show of crushing disappointment was instantly shared by all of the team's fans.
One of the most encouraging aspects of this tournament for the U.S. has been the depth they've displayed, though. Even on a roster without many of the team's top players, the fringe guys and young prospects proved they can come through when called upon. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando had an outstanding tournament, Eddie Johnson and Chris Wondolowski scored goals (which, not too long ago, was a rarity for any of the team's strikers), Alejandro Bedoya and Holden's replacement, Mix Diskerud played well in the midfield. And, of course, Landon Donovan tied it all together by coming off of his sabbatical from the sport and playing perhaps better than ever before in his career.
Yes, it's only the Gold Cup — CONCACAF's off-brand equivalent to UEFA's European Championship and CONMEBOL's Copa America — and there's still a year's worth of work to be done, filled with ever changing, overscrutinized peaks and valleys in form, before the World Cup. But for once it's hard to complain about the state of the U.S. national team. And that's just about the highest praise a fan of any team can offer.
Now if Jurgen Klinsmann can just magically heal Stu Holden's knee, he might truly be a wizard.