USA back on regional perch with rugged and rosy 2024 Gold Cup win

Unpacking what happened at the final in San Diego, and what it means for the USA's overhaul in 2024.

USA back on regional perch with rugged and rosy 2024 Gold Cup win
The U.S. women's national team lift the 2024 W Gold Cup in San Diego | Courtesy of Concacaf

Note: Welcome back to Gold Cup Daily! The final one of the tournament. Thanks for hanging out. This will be another quick snapshot of the action from the previous day, some elongated takes, and closing thoughts.

Sunday's Gold Cup final result:
Brazil 0-1 USA

The Snapshot

A nice big "Vamos, vamos, vamos, yeah" to everyone. The 2024 Gold Cup is finally over. The chaos has come to a close. The United States are your Campeones. Their unwavering dominance of the Concacaf (and Conmebol) regions has resumed.

31,152, people – the biggest crowd ever at a Concacaf women's football event – watched on at Snapdragon Stadium as Lindsey Horan firmly nodded the winner right before halftime. The cross was launched to the back post by Emily Fox.

In all honesty, the goal came against the run of play. Brazil dominated the early phases of the match in terms of duels, tempo, and position on the pitch. Before the USA attempted their first shot, the South Americans racked up six efforts from 18 to 25 yards out. Teasing, rusty signs of life. And yet, nothing too dangerous.

For large parts of the night, interim USA head coach Twila Kilgore's decision to bench player of the tournament Jaedyn Shaw looked to have backfired. But winning the final, without utilizing the 19-year-old until the 71st minute, is a justification of sorts, I suppose.

Both teams were sloppy and rushed. But once the USA had that lead, they were galvanized in having something to protect.

Don't get it twisted though, this was a scrappy game all around, with a sparse total of 18 shots being taken (11 for Brazil, seven for the USA). The hosts' 55% pass completion lagged behind the visitors' 65%. Keen to disrupt, the USA finished with more fouls (15).

Many went to bed fearing that Brazilian forward Bia Zaneratto would appear on a missing person's list on Monday morning. But I assure you, she's safe and sound inside Naomi Girma's pockets.

Something I'll never forget is Luany's gorgeous-looking curling free kick that didn't bend enough to nestle in the top right-hand corner. Instead, the ball glided just beyond the post. We were all treated to Brazil head coach Arthur Elias briefly celebrating and then quickly dissolving, as he thought the strike had gone in from his viewpoint.


Courtesy of CBS / Paramount+

"The USA are a very competitive opponent. We weren't able to finish, even though we had more attempts and had the better ball positions. Their defense was more efficient," Elias summarized, after the final.

For sure, plenty of credit has to go to the USA for seeking out the right tactics and mindset to win the match. It doesn't have to be pretty, clean, or devastating. You can nullify your opponent, play it safe, and play into their lack of composure on the ball.

So often grand finals can be cagey affairs. And, despite a good atmosphere from a loud audience in San Diego, this one certainly followed suit. To the battlers, the spoils. Pour that champagne into the bloody cup already.

Alex Morgan (left) gets the festivities underway with the (Rose) Gold Cup (right) | Courtesy of the USWNT

So...winning ugly, what to make of that?

The Americans conquered all and hoisted the rose gold trophy into the San Diego night sky as pastel-coloured confetti strands rained down upon the players' heads. Much better than the highly wet strands of water that dropped the other night, don't you think?

But the journey to the trophy is an curious one. After being humbled by Mexico in the Group Stage, the Americans ground out the rest of the tournament playing low-risk direct and defensive football.

Before the tournament, Kilgore and federation honcho Matt Crocker spoke about wanting to develop the USA's style of football in 2024. The mission was to become a free-flowing possession-heavy attacking nation. Barcelona ball bebe.

However, in the knockout rounds the USA averaged 44% possession, 54% pass completion, and just 11.3 shots per match. Quick passing combinations were rarely seen, and the team's best moments came in transition when turnovers, mistakes, or quick switches of play occurred.

Now, there's nothing wrong with this. Winning is (sort of) everything. Especially when you're coming off a 2023 that was widely regarded as one of the lowest moments in the history of the U.S. national team. The conditions didn't help either.

Mentality wise, and in terms of competitiveness, Kilgore has improved these players. The young players in particular are up for the fight. But in big matches, against more comparable opposition, the jury is out on whether the USA's veterans can dictate with the ball.

Last summer, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes wrote an op-ed in the Daliy Telegraph about the the USA women's team. Little did she know, she would soon be set to become their next permanent head coach in June 2024.

"What always stood apart for the Americans, for me, from when I worked in the U.S. was their magnificent mentality: They were always winners. … Still, mentality alone is not enough to win anymore. Not with the improvements the rest of the world has been making since the last World Cup," Hayes wrote.

This line echoes today. The 2024 Gold Cup proved that the USA still have the mentality. And in many cases, it was enough. But in the Mexico match, we saw tactics expose them. There were sensible course corrections in the latter rounds, but not progressive ones.

Even on Sunday night, the USA had plenty of rushed sequences and missed opportunities to connect. There's an argument Colombia, Canada and Brazil didn't play to their full potential. With none of those matches requiring the USA to pull off a complex gameplan.

So, is the answer evolving tactics or just going back to their old tactics with a rejuvenated mental state and enthusiasm?

Hope, and a familiar hurdle for Brazil

24 years separate the inaugural 2000 W Gold Cup and the 2024 reboot rosegold edition. But the finals were almost identical. In both, Brazil lost to the USA 1-0 with winning goals coming seconds before the halftime whistle.

Talented Selecao sides traveled north, put on a show in the tournament, only to then retreat back in their shell when facing off against their American hosts. It's now seven consecutive defeats for Brazil against the USA, and the search for an elusive win on American soil goes on.

Considering how rare it is face a version of the USA looking as vulnerable as this, finishing runner-up at the Gold Cup will feel like a massive missed opportunity for Brazil.

On the other hand, with the Olympics on the horizon, the valuable experience gained for Brazil will be viewed as a triumph. These performances, with plenty of young and inexperienced players getting minutes, will be hugely encouraging.

"For this to be part of our preparation process, it has been a very important asset," said Elias."I told the players to be comfortable, to do their best. It was important for them to have joy on the pitch. I told them, that it was going to be difficult. But I have taught them to be confident, to be intense. I am very happy with the players."

It really does feel like a new era for Brazil. A team that has chronically underperformed for the talent that it has available in its squad.

Next, it is about vanquishing the ghosts on a even more global stage. Which means advancing beyond a quarterfinal at a World Cup or Olympics for the first time since 2016.

Courtesy of Selecao Feminina | Credit Leandro Lopes