Some good things came out of the USA's 1-0 win over Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday night.
First of all, it gets to play another game.
The USA will face Qatar in the semifinals on Thursday in Austin, where -- crazy as it sounds -- it will be the underdog and that's a very good thing.
The 2022 World Cup hosts are the reigning Asian champions for a reason. The Qataris have faltered at times defensively and definitely struggled to close games out, but they are well organized and will pose all kinds of problems for the USA with their attacking players.
Which is just what the USA needs.
The semifinal will give U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter a chance to see how his young players in their first international competition handle a tough match.
After losing four international windows in 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic, Berhalter and his staff have been playing catch-up, trying to get game experience for the program that he has been trying to rebuild, not only from the World Cup 2018 qualifying debacle but also since the 2019 Gold Cup when a new batch of young talent burst on the scene.
Fifteen players Berhalter used in the Concacaf Nations League in June or the Gold Cup never played for the USA before the last two years. As he pointed out afterwards, eight starters had never played a knockout game before Sunday night's match.
Because of travel restrictions and the changing international calendar, 11 of the USA's 14 games since play resumed in November 2020 have been against Concacaf foes. They've not always been the most competitive games, but the USA has won them all, extending their winning streak against Concacaf opponents to 14 games, its longest ever and likely the longest ever by a Concacaf team at the senior level.
But at the end of the day, it's not going to be these 14 games that matter, but the 14 World Cup 2022 qualifiers. And the only thing that will matter is how many players from the Gold Cup Berhalter can count on for the Octagonal, which begins in less than six weeks
In that regard, the Gold Cup has already been a success even if it means highly touted younger players like Daryl Dike and Gianluca Busio or Sunday's hero, 20-year-old Matthew Hoppe, might not be ready for the Octagonal, at least at the start.
Matt Turner needed an extended look in goal, and Berhalter has given him all four starts ahead of veterans Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson. He might not supplant Zack Steffen, but he is now in the mix of the USA's top three goalkeepers.
"There was no uncertainty with him," said Berhalter. "He made the saves when he needed to make the saves, he was calm in build up. I thought he had a very good game."
Kellyn Acosta was one of the four holdovers from the Concacaf Nations League, where he played the entire 120 minutes against Mexico in the final, and he had the best game of the players Berhalter has tried out at the No. 6 position at the Gold Cup.
"Kellen was an absolute beast today," said Berhalter, "winning tackles covering a ton of ground."
Another Nations League holdover, right back Reggie Cannon, was injured at the start of the Gold Cup, giving a chance to Shaq Moore, who like Acosta got his start on the national team under previous coaches but didn't figure in Berhalter's plans for much of the U.S. coach's tenure.
Moore followed up on his winning goal against Canada with the key layoff for Cristian Roldan on the play that resulted in Hoppe's late winner.
Roldan, who had the game-winning assist, also fits the bill of someone Berhalter can count on. He played for the USA at the 2017 and 2019 Gold Cups and started three of four games in Nations League qualifying but has rarely played since the USA's return to play in November 2020.
"Roldy is an important part of the team, important part of the group," said Berhalter. "Any time he's in, he sets the tone for how things get done. An amazing professional, really good player, really great commitment to the game. And it's a pleasure to have him in the group. We talked to him yesterday about coming in the 60th minute and he embraced the role and did a good job in it. When you have smart soccer players who are also committed and play fearlessly and are relentless on the field, good things happen."
The big winners, though, have been center backs Miles Robinson and James Sands. Robinson, 24, entered the Gold Cup with three caps; Sands, 21, was uncapped. Robinson is still probably further along than Sands to the point that Berhalter would likely feel comfortable giving him a start early in the Octagonal but both players have put themselves in consideration for inclusion in that 30-player core Berhalter will want to start with in the fall.
Berhalter said Robinson and Sands did an excellent job of containing Jamaica's two giant forwards, Cory Burke and Shamar Nicholson.
"Any time you're high-pressing, any time you're high in the opponent's half, you always have the risk of transitions and you have to be in good positions while you're attacking to control transitions," he said. "But nonetheless they happen and you need guys that can put out fires. James reads the game extremely well, puts himself in good positions to make plays. And Miles can recover on anything. It's really impressive how he recovers. So it gives us the confidence to say, OK, we know we're playing against an athletic team or we playing against a team with speed, but we can handle it because of the players we have in the back."