The United States Men’s National Team has climbed the CONCACAF mountain once again. On Wednesday night, the US defeated Jamaica 2-1–via an awkward late Jordan Morris goal–to claim the country’s first Gold Cup title since 2013, and their sixth CONCACAF championship overall. After a slow start to group play, the United States got a roster boost in the knockout stages–the Gold Cup allows teams to bring in reinforcements after the first three matches–outscoring El Salvador, Costa Rica and Jamaica by a total of 6-1 to win the continent’s premier tournament. While Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard got most of the attention, the Latino players for Team USA played critical roles throughout, but especially in the early stages of the tournament.
Those Latino players should also play key roles on the team as the US looks to rebound from a rough start in World Cup Qualifying in order to book a ticket to Russia 2018. We took a look at five players with Latino heritage that the US will be counting on going forward.
A member of the national team since 2010, Gonzalez didn’t start making an offensive impact for U.S. Soccer until very recently: his goals against Martinique in group play, and against El Salvador in the quarterfinals were just the second and third international goals of his career. Those goals were worth their weight in gold, however, as they got Team USA’s offense rolling in both games, helping them push past tougher-than-expected adversaries. On the other side of the field, his defending has never been top-tier, but he’s a solid presence at the back next to usual partner John Brooks.
Corona, a 27-year-old midfielder who plays for Liga MX side Tijuana, began his international career with Mexico’s Under-22 squad, but after only a year, he found himself wearing the red, white, and blue. His one big moment of the Gold Cup came during the final group game against Nicaragua, where his game-opening goal in the 36th minute opened the flood gates. The United States would go on to steamroll Los Pinoleros by the score of 3-0, winning group B and advancing to the knockout stage in the process.
Villafaña, a US-born Mexican-American left back, started in four of the USMNT’s biggest matches during this tournament. Not coincidentally, these four matches were the US’s best defensive efforts of the Gold Cup: the tournament-opening 1-1 draw with Panama, the shutout against Nicaragua, the clean sheet semi-final win over Costa Rica, and the final, where they held Jamaica to just five total shots. Defense has been the US’s weak spot in recent years, but with Gonzalez and Villafaña helping out at the back, the Americans were able to hold the fort down on the way to the trophy.
At 30-years-old and with 64 caps to his credit, Bedoya is one of the USMNT’s most experienced players. He saw significant minutes against Panama, Martinique and Nicaragua as the team’s captain–in the absence of usual skipper Michael Bradley–before heading home in the reinforcements stage to attend to his newborn child. Bedoya is one of the US’s most consistent players, and has been a key part of the midfield since making his international debut in 2010. Bedoya, who is of Colombian descent, should be back with the side for this summer’s World Cup Qualifiers, and if his performance against Nicaragua is an indication (2 assists in the 3-0 win), he’ll be back to making a difference for the USMNT.
Although he didn’t play during the Gold Cup–he was brought in alongside Tim Howard as a knockout stage reinforcement–the 22-year-old goalie still made quite the USMNT buzz this year. Gonzalez began his international career with Mexico two years ago, despite being born in the US–his parents are Mexican citizens, which made him eligible to play for El Tri. This year, however, Gonzalez made use of FIFA’s one-time switch rule for dual nationals, joining the USMNT back in June.
He may not have played in this year’s tournament, but at 22 years of age, the Dallas FC #1 has put himself in the running to be the country’s goalie of the future. While Tim Howard (38-years-old) and Brad Guzan (33) have solidified their legacies in the sport, they won’t be around forever, so it’ll be fun to see what Gonzalez brings to the table once he gets a crack at it.