The 5 USMNT players who turned Gold Cup opportunity into World Cup stardom
While U.S. men’s national team coach Bruce Arena may have leaned heavily on a squad of players on the fringes of the World Cup qualifying roster, it’s more than likely that someone on this Gold Cup team will play his way to Russia.
Historically, players who have stood out at a Gold Cup in the year before a World Cup have fought their way onto the roster. That will likely be the case again this year, and it’s probably a reason why Arena chose the roster he did.
Players like Eric Lichaj, Matt Hedges, Dom Dwyer, Bill Hamid and Kenny Saeif will have every opportunity to catch Arena’s eye and earn a spot on the team that heads to Russia.
Here is a look at five players who used the Gold Cup to springboard their way to a World Cup.
5. Matt Besler
The Sporting Kansas City center back can also count himself among the players who broke out at January camp, but it was in the 2013 Gold Cup where he truly broke out. Besler emerged at that tournament and would go on to make 12 appearances in 2013, including 11 starts. His first breakout performance was in a 0-0 draw at Mexico in World Cup qualifying, but Besler would solidify himself as the go-to starter during that summer’s Gold Cup. He joined the team in the knockout round and started in wins over El Salvador, Honduras and the final win over Panama.
Besler would go on to start all four World Cup games in 2014 in Brazil, logging 345 minutes for the U.S. as it advanced out of the Group of Death before eventually falling to Belgium in the Round of 16. Besler now has 39 caps, including five in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, and he is once again a part of the Gold Cup roster this summer.
4. Stuart Holden
Before the 2009 Gold Cup, the extent of Holden’s experience with the senior national team was 61 minutes in a 3-1 friendly loss to Denmark. Bob Bradley called the midfielder, who was in the midst of his final season with the Houston Dynamo, for the Gold Cup, and Holden would soon distinguish himself with the Red, White and Blue.
Holden started five games and went the full 90 in all five, including an unfortunate 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Mexico in the final. Holden, who was approaching his 24th birthday, scored twice in the tournament – the game-tying goal in a 2-2 draw against Haiti and a 4-0 win over Grenada.
The performance while wearing the No. 10 jersey was enough for Bradley to bring Holden into the 2010 World Cup squad, despite the fact that Holden had broken his leg in a friendly in March. He would play just one game in the tournament, coming on as a substitute against England, but the always-upbeat Holden was seen as a positive contributor to the group in South Africa.