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Robinson, Acosta and the five biggest winners from the USMNT's Gold Cup triumph

4:00 PM GMT 05/08/2021
Robinson Berhalter Acosta split
With World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, Goal looks at which players may have forced themselves into contention for starting spots this summer

Who would have thought?

The U.S. men's national team are heading into the fall as Gold Cup and Nations League winners, riding high after two statement wins over Mexico.

Two entirely different teams with two entirely different play styles battled their way to the same result, asserting the U.S. as the team to beat heading into World Cup qualifying.

That fact was likely true before the Gold Cup kicked-off this summer, thanks to the talent of players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest and co.

But the Gold Cup showed that this U.S. team is not top-heavy, and that there is some incredible depth in this player pool.

At the Gold Cup, there were plenty of standouts that either claimed or reclaimed their spot with the national team. Whenever you win a tournament, there will be individualss who earn their share of the credit, and several of those will now move into bigger roles during World Cup qualifying.

So, to cap a summer full of winning for the USMNT, let's take a look at the big winners from the Gold Cup:

Kellyn Acosta

When healthy, Tyler Adams is the USMNT's No.6, and there is not much room to debate that fact. When he is on the field, the RB Leipzig star is a legitimate difference-maker, the type of player that can keep a game under control while also providing that little bit of attitude that takes a team to another level.

But staying healthy has been a problem for Adams, and that could be a problem for the USMNT. As such, Berhalter has tried out a number of alternatives as the No.6, but none could hold a candle to Adams.

Until now.

Kellyn Acosta shone throughout the Gold Cup, showing all of the traits needed to fit right into Berhalter's midfield.

After several years in the relative wilderness, Acosta proved he can operate as a lone defensive midfielder, showing the ability to read the game and all of the savviness needed to push through the brawls that make up CONCACAF competition.

And there will be plenty over the next year or so on the road to Qatar, and you cannot expect Adams to be available for all of them.

Berhalter will finally be able to be okay with that, as Acosta proved he can step up to the plate in a position that has long been one of weakness for the USMNT.

Matt Turner

Consider the position of starting USMNT goalkeeper up for grabs.

Turner was essentially flawless throughout the Gold Cup, securing five clean sheets in six games this summer.

The one goal he did allow was from a penalty, and any other goalkeeper probably would have conceded from at least a few of the shots that Turner somehow got his hands to.

It was an incredible tournament for a player that probably deserved the Golden Ball, which inexplicably went to Mexico's Hector Herrera instead. Without Turner's heroics, the U.S. almost certainly does not win the Gold Cup. He truly was that good.

Turner's strong run was not just because of big saves, of which there were many. But it was also about how he flexed what was an apparent weakness.

We have all known that Turner is a great shot-stopper, but the New England Revolution goalkeeper's play with the ball at his feet was the sign of a confident player that has now taken a massive step forward.

And so Zack Steffen's spot as the No.1 goalkeeper is officially up for grabs. For quite some time, Steffen has been recognized as the USMNT's official starter, but that time is over after the performances Turner put in this summer.

This is set to be a battle through World Cup qualifying right up to, hopefully, the finals in Qatar.

Miles Robinson and James Sands

We are going to cheat a bit and group these two together.

If Turner was not the true Golden Ball winner, then it was Robinson, and not just for his tournament-winning goal.

The Atlanta United star was also near perfect this summer, pushing him all the way up towards the top of the centerback depth chart.

An absolutely incredible one-on-one defender, Robinson already has fantastic game sense to go with his above-average speed. Throughout this tournament, one which saw him play every minute, he also proved he can be the anchor of a backline after veteran leader Walker Zimmerman went down injured.

With John Brooks' place set in stone as the USMNT's defensive leader, it now looks like Robinson should be the man to partner him at the start of World Cup qualifiers, as he has now leapfrogged the likes of Zimmerman,  Chris Richards, Matt Miazga and the rest of the centerback group.

This summer, Robinson proved that he truly has everything you could ever want in a centerback, and fans have now finally gotten to see it at the international level for an extended period of time in some really tough games.

And, while Robinson was the star, Sands also deserved an honorable mention for shining in a different type of role.

Before the U.S. shifted to a back four following Zimmerman's injury, Sands played a Beckenbauer-esque role in a back five, playing centrally in defense while also stepping into the midfield when attacking.

He is the sort of player that gives a team incredible versatility simply because he can play as a centerback, midfielder or in that hybrid role in a back five, and supporters could certainly see him in qualifiers too if the U.S. wants to change their system.

Gyasi Zardes

There are a certain section of USMNT fans that will never love seeing Zardes' name in the XI. That section is one that grossly underestimates, however, what Zardes can do for this current USMNT.

In a game that is, in fact, decided by goals, Zardes tends to find a way to score them. They may not be pretty, but those goals do come.

The big one this summer, of course, came against Canada, sending the U.S. into the tournament finale.

And, when the goals dry up, Zardes is not the type of striker that becomes useless.

Look at the Gold Cup final against Mexico, a game where Zardes did not get the goal himself. However, he wore down Mexico's backline to the point of exhaustion, and it is in those moments of exhaustion that big chances emerge.

Daryl Dike, the player that could very well be the USMNT's No.9 of the future, struggled throughout the knockout stages. Part of that was likely due to a shoulder injury, but part of that was also likely due to exhaustion, with Dike having played for two clubs and his national team over the last year without much of a break.

This was not his best tournament, but he will certainly be back.

Depending on how Josh Sargent starts the new European season, Zardes very well could be the USMNT's No.9 when World Cup qualifiers kick-off.

The Gold Cup was a typically steady performance from the Columbus Crew forward and, while it may not be sexy, steady is not always a bad thing.

Gregg Berhalter

Last, and certainly not least, we have to give credit to the man that orchestrated this whole summer.

Berhalter has the USMNT heading into World Cup qualifiers with two trophies in hand, having led two entirely different types of teams in recent months.

By doing so, he certainly erased any lingering doubts from those that thought he was not the man for the job.

When Berhalter was first hired, there was a feeling of disappointment from some sections of the fanbase. "Nepotism!" some cried, pointing to Berhatler's brother Jay, who had a top position at U.S. Soccer at the time. "Another MLS coach?" added others, still reeling from Bruce Arena's inability to turn around a sinking ship in 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

But Berhalter is, by any measure, the right man of the job. He led the USMNT A-team to a thrilling win over Mexico in the Nations League with a combination of tactics and that good old fashioned American effort that was lacking for so long.

He then took an entirely different U.S. team and pushed them to grind out another title in an entirely different set of circumstances. Winning pretty or winning ugly, it does not matter.

For the first time in a while, there is genuine reason to be excited about the USMNT again. There are so many good, young players with plenty more waiting in the wings.

Under Berhalter, the player pool has completely turned over and reinvented itself to the point where there are three-to-four teams worth of players that will be up for selection in the coming months.

The pain of the 2018 cycle will not be erased until the moment the USMNT steps foot in Qatar, and that is still a long way away.

But Berhalter has helped the U.S. take a step forwards and into what should be a brighter future by laying the foundation over the last few years.