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Why you shouldn't worry about the USMNT's Gold Cup performance

Think this squad is bad? Good news! It'll mostly get blown up over the next two years.

The United States men's national team is limping through the Gold Cup, and has yet to show off their best stuff against a credible opponent. They had to scrape past Haiti and Honduras before drawing Panama in a game with no stakes, then crushed a shorthanded Cuba side in the quarterfinal. Their game against Jamaica on Wednesday is their biggest and toughest yet.


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Because the U.S. is a developing soccer nation with a constantly changing domestic league and a coach who is also technical director, constant progress is expected. This USMNT squad is not better than the one that went to the World Cup, and it might have you wondering if there's some cause for concern.

It's fair to question whether the USMNT is moving in the right direction, but an average Gold Cup performance isn't a good reason to smash the panic button. Gold Cup performances and squads rarely tell us anything about where a team is headed in the last cycle.

Remember the 2011 Gold Cup final, which featured one of the best teams Mexico has ever fielded? Bob Bradley got his tactics exactly right, completely fooled El Tri and still lost 4-2. Mexico played gorgeous soccer throughout the tournament and looked to be set up with a golden generation. Two years later, they turned in a terrible World Cup qualifying performance, requiring a miracle stoppage time USA goal against Panama to send them to an intercontinental playoff.

Mexico aren't the only team that went through dramatic changes during that time period -- the USMNT did too. After Jurgen Klinsmann replaced Bradley, he overhauled the roster. Only three of the players who started the 2011 Gold Cup final started the United States' first Hex match against Honduras -- Jermaine Jones and Landon Donovan were injured, but even if they were fit, Klinsmann still would have made six changes by choice. That was the exact number of different starters the team that won the World Cup qualification clinching game against Mexico had from the one that played in the Gold Cup final.

A year later, the changes were even more dramatic -- Klinsmann's World Cup squad had 15 changes from Bradley's 2011 Gold Cup squad.

The USMNT's changes from Gold Cup to Hex to World Cup weren't that much less dramatic with one coach in place through the whole cycle four years earlier. There were four changes to the team that started the 2007 Gold Cup final for the United States' first hex match in 2009, and five differences between that team and the qualification clinching team. From the 2007 Gold Cup squad to the 2010 World Cup roster, Bradley swapped out 11 players.

So if you think this iteration of the USMNT stinks and needs some sweeping changes, you're in luck. Coaching change or not, the team that starts the United States' last Gold Cup game will not be the one that starts their first Hex match. Around a dozen of the players in this Gold Cup squad will not head to Russia in 2018.

Because it comes a year after the World Cup, the Gold Cup is often used to evaluate older players to see if they have one last serious run in them. The likes of Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Brad Evans and Chris Wondolowski aren't going to feature in many (or any) Hex matches. Clint Dempsey will stick around for a bit, but probably won't make it to Russia. Guys like Tim Ream, Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi are facing a serious fight to stay relevant throughout this cycle. And alongside all of them, a small handful of prime-age players will suffer injuries or will just turn out to be not quite good enough.

There are lots of mid-20s players who haven't gotten their shot yet, plus Under-20 World Cup stars and future Under-23 Olympic qualifying team players who are going to get into the team this cycle. Lots of them. Meanwhile, most of the players who we don't think are good enough to help the USMNT when it really matters will fade off into the sunset very shortly.

The Gold Cup is a real, competitive tournament, and a way to introduce some promising new players into the team ahead of World Cup qualifying, but it's also a way to evaluate the past year's World Cup squad and see who's worth keeping around for a few more years. A lot of these guys will be exiled very soon. The Americans aren't playing well, but there's nothing to worry about.