Led by a late goal by Brek Shea, the United States defeated Panama, 1-0, in the Gold Cup final. With the win, the Americans cap off what has been their most dominant stretch of world football since manager Jurgen Klinsmann took over in 2011.
Just make sure the close score is not confused with a sign of weakness—the United States of America was absolutely dominant throughout the Gold Cup.
It wasn't easy for the Americans. They were forced to play without Klinsmann after CONCACAF suspended him for throwing a ball at a referee during Team USA's semifinals match with Honduras. Even so, they persevered.
Off an assist by—who else?—Landon Donovan, Shea scored in the 69th minute and gave goaltender Nick Rimando all the support he needed to lead the U.S. to a monumental victory.
USA has won the Gold Cup for the first time since 2007. It's USA's 5th Gold Cup title.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 28, 2013
It wasn't just a victory—it was the result the U.S. earned with their summer-long dominance.
Team USA hasn't lost a game since May 29, when Belgium won by a score of 4-2. Since then, the U.S. has dominated their opposition, winning 11 consecutive matches.
In the end, it's not about how many matches they've won. It's about when they've won them.
Dominating the Gold Cup
The United States men's national team started off the Gold Cup with a bang, defeating Belize by a score of 6-1. Chris Wondolowski netted a hat trick, Landon Donovan picked up a goal and two assists, and the U.S. set the stage for something special.
While a 6-1 win over Belize may not sound like much, it was the second consecutive game in which Team USA dominated a lesser opponent. It's been a long, long time since we've been able to say that.
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Known for playing down to their level of competition, the U.S. followed that dominant performance with a 4-1 win over Cuba. Wondolowski added two more goals, Donovan scored again and even Joe Corona Crespin found the back of the net.
Just like that, the U.S. had outscored their first two opponents by a count of 10-2 and suddenly had the look of a Gold Cup powerhouse.
The U.S. proceeded to win, 1-0, against a surprisingly strong Costa Rica team, needing a goal by Brek Shea in the 82nd minute. This was the test that every contender faces in a tournament—an underdog rising to the challenge.
This time, it wasn't Team USA that was the underdog—it was Team USA proving its dominance.
With a 5-1 win over El Salvador and a 3-1 semifinals victory against Honduras, the run to the final was completed. From there, it was a 1-0 win over Panama that simply affirmed what we'd already learned about this year's American soccer team.
What It Means
The U.S. won't enter the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil as one of the favorites to win it all. They won't be found in the same conversation as the likes of Brazil, Germany and Spain, and they won't be found with second-tier squads such as Argentina and Portugal.
With that being said, the Americans were a dud against Ghana away from the 2010 quarterfinals—don't fool yourself into thinking they can't make the leap into the final eight.
We're roughly four months away from the final draw, and that will determine just how real a threat the U.S. poses. With that being said, we're beyond the days of the Americans simply serving as another filler team without a legitimate shot at advancing.
They're stuck somewhere in between pretender and contender. An upset of a football power could help them make the leap.
If the Americans have shown us anything during this time, it's that they've made drastic improvements under Klinsmann. They're no longer disappointing fans by barely escaping lesser opponents, but instead, they're dominating as they're expected to do.
All that's left is a breakthrough performance on the grandest stage of them all.