A terrific tournament, capped off by a fabulous final, the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup produced some stunning performances; here are the best of the lot.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard- As ever, Tim Howard was right on form in the Gold Cup, saving the United States on numerous occasions during their early tournament woes. One stunning reflex save in the opening minutes against Jamaica was indicative of Howard’s effort all tournament long, he is the latest in a long line of brilliant American goalkeepers, and hopefully, he will keep goal for the States for many years to come.
Left Back: Carlos Salcido- A starter at Fulham, Salcido reaffirmed his classy reputation with another stellar series of performances. He has been a stalwart member of the Mexican defense for years now, starting all six games at the Gold Cup, he shone on attack and in defense. Though he was forced to come off with an injury early on in the final, Salcido will still take home a winners medal, something that he should be very proud of indeed.
Center Back: Felipe Baloy- The highlight of Panama’s Gold Cup was their 2-1 victory over the United States, and the Panamanians have Baloy to thank for that, as well as most of their other successes. A tough central defender, Baloy takes no prisoners, and was able to shut down the US forward line on one, and almost two, occasions. At age thirty, Baloy is a journeyman defender, but he will be remembered for the rest of his career, for that fabulous performance against the United States.
Right Back: Steve Cherundolo- The only consistent performer in defense for the United States, Cherundolo was by far the United States’ best performer at the tournament. The captain of Hannover in Germany, Cherundolo has plenty of high level European experience, and he kept a steady shift every time he played for the US. Bombing forward when he could, Cherundolo was also a threat on the attacking side of things, throwing in accurate crosses for the likes of Altidore and Dempsey to feed off of.
Left Midfield: Andres Guardado- The Mexican attack was filled with guile and creativity, qualities perfectly embodied by Andres Guardado. Capable of sprinting down the line or taking the ball inside, Guardado was a threat every time he had possession. Three goals from a wing position is an impressive return, and his strike against the USA was arguably a game turner, though admittedly, had he missed a goal probably would have come from elsewhere. Next season, you can be sure to see Guardado changing clubs, he is just way too good to play in the Segunda Division for Deportivo.
Center Midfield: Jermain Jones- Without having played in a major international tournament before, Jermain Jones acquitted himself quite well for the United States of America. Sitting alongside Michael Bradley in defensive midfield, Jones was at the heart of every midfield battle, intercepting passes, and breaking up play with his wonderful tackles. Despite not being known for his goalscoring, Jones did come up with a crucial strike for the United States; his deflected effort in the quarter final against Jamaica crucially opened the scoring.
Center Midfield: Gerardo Torrado- Another player accustomed to sitting deep in midfield, Torrado started virtually every attack for the Mexicans, picking the ball up off one of the central defenders, and spraying passes out hither and thither. With players of the quality of Dos Santos, Barrera and Guardado on the wings, Torrado’s accurate passes out wide were very effective weapons; ones that caused problems to every team that came in Mexico’s way. On the defensive side, Torrado also excelled, knicking the ball of attacking midfielders, and sliding in with tackles that instantly destroyed promising looking attacks.
Center Attacking Midfield: Clint Dempsey- Dempsey is the best American player of his generation, experienced at the top level of the game and a consistent performer for the National Team. With three goals, Dempsey was the United States’ top goal scorer, chipping in with strikes against Canada, Jamaica and Panama. However, Dempsey’s usefulness in attack extends outside his ability to find the back of the net, the American is capable of dictating an attack, as well as finding a crucial pass, an aspect of his game demonstrated by his assist on Landon Donovan’s goal against Mexico.
Right Midfield: Giovanni Dos Santos- The man of the match in the final, Dos Santos ran rings around the US defense, causing Jonathan Bornstein all kinds of problems down the right. His solo goal which capped off tournament victory for Mexico, was simply stunning, a combination of skill, poise, speed and sumptuous vision. The United States just couldn’t deal with his pace in the final, pace that had ripped apart lesser foes all tournament long.
Forward: Luis Tejada- Luis Tejada contributed to all of Panama’s Gold Cup highlights, scoring against the US, equalizing in the Quarter Final and then scoring the winning penalty in the subsequent shootout. Tejada’s consistently impressive performances for Panama will insure that he goes down as one of the most legendary footballers to come out of that country, he should be proud of his and his nation’s effort at the finals.
Forward: Chicharito- What more can I say about this guy that hasn’t been said already? Pace, movement, quick thinking he has got it all, and a winners medal for his troubles too. The tournament’s top scorer with seven goals, Chicharito didn’t actually find the net in the final, but his superb through ball for Barrera was absolutely crucial. Officially named as the player of the tournament, it’s difficult to argue against him, he is one of the best strikers in the World, and is set to enjoy success at club and national level for the next decade at least.