Jesus Ferreira & James Sands show Gregg Berhalter what they're made of as Matt Miazga has a tournament to forget - the USMNT's winners & losers of the Gold Cup

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GOAL takes a look at the U.S. players that boosted their stock and those that faltered following the semifinal exit at the hands of Panama.

Going into the Gold Cup, we all knew what it meant for the U.S. men's national team. After winning the Nations League earlier this summer with a star-studded team, the USMNT's Gold Cup squad was built differently. The aim would be to win the trophy, obviously, but this summer was also about seeing which players on the fringes could step up.

With the gift of hindsight, we now know that the U.S. probably got a bit lucky back in 2021 when they won this competition with a similarly-depleted roster. They won't be winning it this time around as they were eliminated by Panama on Wednesday night, and deservedly so.

Two years ago, several players used that 2021 Gold Cup to springboard themselves into World Cup contention. This time around, some fringe members of the full squad did their chances no harm, even if this tournament didn't end with a trophy, and more USMNT chances will come for them.

On the flip side, though, not every player stepped up and, if they had, we'd be writing a preview for Sunday's Gold Cup finale rather than a tournament post-mortem like this. Indeed, there were many that left a lot to be desired, squandering their chance at making a statement heading into the true start of this new cycle.

GOAL takes a look at the winners and losers of the USMNT's Gold Cup run:

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  1. WINNER: James Sands
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    WINNER: James Sands

    Probably the biggest winner of this tournament, Sands hardly put a foot wrong the whole way through.

    His club, NYCFC, has been going through it this season, but Sands didn't bring any of that with him to the international level. He was calm and composed starting as the lone No.6, shielding the defense with ease through large stretches of the tournament.

    Sands was one of the few players to look good throughout, putting in solid shifts against both Canada and Panama. His stock will climb higher than anyone else's from this team and Gregg Berhalter will have taken notice.

    The U.S. is still looking for a backup No.6 for Tyler Adams - that role has belonged to Kellyn Acosta before - and based on what we've seen, it could be Sands' for the taking as he's more than earned a chance with the full team.

    As for his club situation, Sands has stated his intentions of heading back to Europe after recently returning to MLS after a stint at Rangers. European teams watching will have seen a solid defensive midfielder, and it's safe to assume he'll will be back playing abroad before too long.

  2. LOSER: Alejandro Zendejas
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    LOSER: Alejandro Zendejas

    The Club America star just never got going.

    He started each of the first four games but made little offensive impact in each. For the semifinal, he was out of the XI due to injury, unable to come in and change a game that definitely could have benefitted from his introduction.

    This wasn't the tournament Zendejas needed, not by a long shot. Prior to the Gold Cup, he appeared to be a player challenging for a spot with the A-team as a creative force off the bench. None of that creativity was apparent in these games, though, as Zendejas struggled to shoulder the responsibility of being a key piece of the attack.

    Is it smart to write off a 25-year-old newcomer due to a few bad games? Absolutely not. Zendejas will get more chances to prove that this summer wasn't a true representation of his game.

    You can't deny, though, that his stock took a hit as the U.S. may have to look elsewhere for wingers heading into the next few camps.

  3. WINNER: Jalen Neal
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    WINNER: Jalen Neal

    Heading into the tournament, most people had the same perception of Neal: talented, but very, very raw. He'd struggled a bit in his USMNT debut earlier this year and, despite breaking through with the Galaxy in the months since, there were questions about how he'd fare at this level.

    However, he answered all of those questions with ease, and Neal was probably the team's best central defender during this Gold Cup run, which is a huge compliment to the 19-year-old.

    Neal still has holes in his game, for sure, particularly on the defensive end. His positive attributes, though, are clear for all to see. His ability on the ball makes him a standout, and the U.S. did miss him in the semifinal.

    The teenager is so far ahead of the curve now due to this experience. He has over 400 USMNT minutes under his belt before his 20th birthday, which is massive for a central defender.

    He's definitely one to keep an eye on as he continues to develop in MLS and, if he does keep developing, who knows where he'll be by the time 2026 rolls around?

  4. LOSER: Matt Miazga
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    LOSER: Matt Miazga

    For Miazga, this tournament was all about getting back into Gregg Berhalter's good graces. The USMNT head coach wasn't here, but, after having a rocky relationship last cycle, the 27-year-old was hoping to use this tournament as a springboard back into his plans.

    Well, it's hard to imagine Berhalter's opinion changing much during this five-game run. There's no way he will have been overly impressed by Miazga's performances in a USMNT shirt this summer.

    Defensively, the FC Cincinnati man was okay, but a bit shaky. He wasn't awful by any stretch but, for a player looking to leapfrog those ahead of him, you'd have liked to have seen far more. Indeed, he was a bit uncertain on Canada's second goal in the quarters and got it all wrong when trying to step out for Panama's opener in the semifinal. It really wasn't great.

    And then there's the whole sportsmanship debate. Miazga's attempt to unsettle Cecelio Waterman in the penalty shootout will divide opinion but, for a USMNT group built so much on accountability and chemistry, it wasn't a good look.

    At 27, Miazga still has time to make his case with the national team and, given his success in MLS, his club play will keep him in the pool going forward. Still, he definitely didn't help his case this summer.

  5. WINNER: Jesus Ferreira
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    WINNER: Jesus Ferreira

    Let's be honest: Ferreira's new nickname may just be the best thing to come out of this tournament. 'The Pirate of the Caribbean'. It's fantastic.

    Still, despite the quality of the opposition his goals came against, you can't say that Ferreira's contributions on the pitch didn't help raise his stock. He scored seven in total and will almost certainly win the Golden Boot. You really can't knock that, can you?

    Yes, he scored hat-tricks against St. Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad & Tobago to inflate that total, but it was the same for everyone else. You can only score against the team put in front of you, and Ferreira did just that to great effect.

    His goal against Panama - proving he could score against a non-Caribbean team - was a fantastic finish, a clean volley that looked like it would save the USMNT.

    It didn't, and Ferreira did go on to miss his penalty in the shootout. Still, looking at the overall tournament, the FC Dallas star should feel good about his summer. He's almost certainly a comfortable third on the depth chart behind Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi, with plenty of time to still catch up.

    Does Ferreira need to go to Europe to take his own next step? Probably. We'll see how that shakes out. But, if European teams were watching this Gold Cup, and they certainly were, Ferreira will have made quite the impression.

  6. LOSER: Miles Robinson
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    LOSER: Miles Robinson

    The Atlanta United star is graded on a different scale to many of his Gold Cup teammates - because he's meant to be better than them. At this tournament, though, he really wasn't.

    Robinson played just two-and-a-half of the five games this summer and, aside from a 45-minute runout against T&T, never quite looked himself. He was dealing with fitness issues and is only just getting back onto the field after his Achilles injury last year, but the USMNT would have expected a bit more.

    His handballs against Canada in the quarterfinal nearly ended up costing the USMNT and, while he made some fantastic challenges against Panama in the last four, that served to cover up what was an otherwise lackluster game. For a player expecting to be a key figure for the A-Team, Robinson looked like just another player during this Gold Cup.

    The centerback race is heating up, and Robinson is definitely a part of it, but he didn't show why he should be the guy ahead of Berhalter's return this fall.

  7. WINNER: DeJuan Jones
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    WINNER: DeJuan Jones

    The USMNT has been crying out for someone, anyone, to provide an answer at leftback. Antonee Robinson is the starter there but, for years, the U.S. has needed a backup.

    Jones may just be that guy.

    The New England Revolution defender was a standout throughout the tournament, showing that he has what it takes to compete at this level, both defensively and in the attacking third. He had two phenomenal assists, with his ball in to Brandon Vazquez in the quarterfinal a standout moment of this toruanment, and, defensively, he didn't do much wrong.

    At 26, he has experience, although he still needs more at full international level. Still, leading up to 2026, Jones should definitely get the chance to push Robinson for that leftback spot.