The United States has run through its Gold Cup competition without much issue, but it will face its toughest test yet when it takes on undefeated Panama in the final. The likes of Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski have received much of the credit for the United States' success in this tournament, but it has been a total team effort.
Essentially, every player on the roster has performed well for Team USA, and that is why the Americans have been so dominant. Anything can happen in a single match, though, so the United States will need a number of fantastic efforts in order to beat Panama. Based on the way things have gone thus far, that shouldn't be a problem.
Here are three unheralded American players who will continue their stellar play and help lead the United States to yet another Gold Cup title.
Norwegian-born midfielder Mix Diskerud has been a revelation for Team USA in the Gold Cup, as he has provided a great deal of pace and creativity. Diskerud has only made eight career appearances for the United States, but he has made his presence felt and is making a case for himself to be considered for the 2014 World Cup squad. Diskerud has both started and come off the bench during the Gold Cup, and he has excelled regardless of the situation.
Diskerud didn't start in the semifinals against Honduras, but he did enter the game in the 66th minute, and provided a steady presence in the midfield for the remainder of the match. Diskerud has just one goal in the tournament, which came in a 5-1 win over El Salvador in the quarters. Diskerud's specialty is setting up his teammates, though, which is something he has done with great efficiency. His game is actually quite comparable to Tobin Heath on the women's side, and she has taken notice.
Like Heath, Diskerud is a young player who is quickly rising up the national team ranks. His ball-handling ability is slick, and he is very tough for opposing defenders to lock down due to his unpredictability. Few players on the Gold Cup roster have comparable feel and touch, as Diskerud can find his teammates in scoring areas at will. Provided Diskerud is used extensively against Panama, he will surely contribute to a winning effort.
Things certainly seem to be coming together for the United States men's national team as a whole in recent months. Not only has the "B squad" been dominant in the Gold Cup, but the "A squad" has had plenty of success as well. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to feel pretty confident in his goalkeeping, midfielders and strikers, but there is still plenty to be settled on the back line. One player who has made his presence felt, though, is Matt Besler.
The steady center-back has been excellent in limited action with Team USA, and he has established himself as a Gold Cup starter. Besler isn't flashy, but center-backs generally don't have to be. He rarely gets caught out of position and always seems to be in the position necessary to keep things tidy in the 18-yard box. A lot can happen between now and next year's World Cup in Brazil, but Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated likes his chances to be a World Cup starter.
Wahl views the reigning MLS Defender of the Year as a favorite to start for Klinsmann next year, but he'll have to prove that he can handle the big stage against Panama. Besler already started a match for Team USA against Mexico at Estadio Azteca, so there probably isn't anything that he can't handle at this point. Besler is especially good at making the simple plays, and, as long as he continues to do that during the Gold Cup final, he will remain on track to start in Brazil.
With Donovan making his triumphant return to the U.S. national team in the Gold Cup, it's easy to overlook some of the other attackers on the team. One who has been particularly impressive, though, is midfielder Joe Corona. The 23-year-old dynamo has received his first extended action for Team USA in this tournament, and he has made it count. Corona has two goals to his credit, and he has been a constant threat throughout the Gold Cup.
Corona didn't play against Honduras due to the United States' midfield depth, but it's hard to imagine him being left out against Panama. Corona may be a midfielder, but he has the skills and instincts of a stirker. His goals in this tournament have been highly impressive, as he has shown the ability to strike with power and accuracy from distance. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports has been blown away by Corona and believes that he has a legitimate chance at being a World Cup starter.
Which unheralded player will perform best for Team USA vs. Panama?
Corona definitely has his work cut out for him in that regard, since he'll be in direct competition with Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones among others, but a spot on the roster certainly isn't out of reach. Corona brings a great deal of versatility and explosiveness to the table, which are two qualities that a squad can't possibly have enough of. Corona simply makes plays when he is on the pitch, so expect him to cause the Panamanian defense plenty of distress in the Gold Cup final.
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