The Gold Cup 2013 has provided some enthralling individual performances and with the final on Sunday, there's a chance for at least one more.
A tournament like this is great because there are so many players who are somewhat unknown quantities. Many sides are fielding "B" teams so their key players aren't helping out in World Cup qualification. The teams that chose their best players have probably already been eliminated from qualification.
The football isn't of the highest quality so it's good that there have been so many players who have stepped up in a big way.
Here are some of the best individual performances of the tournament.
Rodolfo Zelaya vs. Trinidad and Tobago, Group Stage
Rodolfo Zelaya's brace against Trinidad and Tobago got things off to a great start in Group B. He just nearly missed out on a hat-trick after his bicycle kick was denied by Jan-Michael Williams toward the end of the match.
There have been few players whose stock has risen higher than Zelaya's. The 25-year-old has gone from being a relative unknown in the Salvadoran first division to a possible target for clubs in Major League Soccer. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported Zelaya is coy about his future, with MLS a possible target.
It's usually imprudent to judge a player off of one tournament. With Zelaya, you feel confident in saying that this is a player who can offer a threat in the attack and definitely be lethal from set pieces.
It started with that brace against T&T.
Ariel Martinez vs. Belize, Group Stage
With Cuba's backs against the wall, Ariel Martinez stepped up in a big way. In order to qualify as a top third-place finisher, Cuba needed score at least four goals against Belize and hope for a Martinique loss against Mexico.
On the strength of an Ariel Martinez hat-trick, Cuba beat Belize, 4-0, while Martinique lost to Mexico.
Goals against Belize weren't exactly hard to come by. Chris Wondolowski netted a hat-trick against them in the first half.
What made Martinez's performance all the more impressive were both what was at stake and the fact that Cuba had only scored one goal going into the match against Belize.
With Martinez leading the way, Cuba advanced to the knockout stage. The 6-1 loss to Panama was deflating, but you'd rather get thrashed in the quarterfinals than taken out in the group stage.
Nick Rimando vs. El Salvador, Quarterfinals
Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Joe Corona and Eddie Johnson have gotten the lion's share of the plaudits among the United States' key players. The US might not have been able to get by El Salvador in the quarterfinals had Nick Rimando not put on a bravura performance.
Had it not been for his fantastic double save in the 25th minute who knows how the match would have unfolded.
The match would have been leveled. Maybe Joe Corona doesn't score four minutes later and maybe the United States don't go on to score five more.
Time and again against El Salvador, Rimando was there to make the save and keep his defense organized. The Gold Cup has been a deserved showcase for a goalkeeper who has been so reliable for Real Salt Lake.
Jaime Penedo vs. Mexico, Semifinals
Jaime Penedo wasn't content to sit back and let Nick Rimando hog the spotlight. Penedo went out and put on an even better performance against Mexico.
El Tri had had a hard time scoring in the tournament. With the talent at their disposal, Mexico was still capable of putting two or three goals up against Panama. Instead, they were stonewalled by Penedo.
His save in the 80th minute to keep Panama up, 2-1, helped to seal the game. Given their lack of confidence, it was vital to let that doubt creep into the Mexico attackers. The longer they would go without scoring, the more desperate they would become. Mexico wasn't able to continue their positive momentum when Luis Montes equalized in the 26th minute. Much of that was down to Penedo.
Gold Cup success is nothing new for Penedo. He was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament back in 2005. Given Panama's run to the final, there's a great chance he can get his second top keeper award in a couple of days.
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