Andres Guardado, Clint Dempsey highlight Gold Cup Best XI
Mexico captain Andres Guardado carried a heavy burden for most of this month. His teammates flattered to deceive for much of this CONCACAF Gold Cup, but he provided the reliable, effective impetus to carry them through nevertheless.
Guardado finished second on the scoring charts with six goals, but his influence permeated throughout the ranks. His consistency supplied a necessary touchstone as Mexico lurched through the tournament.
Those displays culminated with his role in the final. Guardado scored the opening goal in the 3-1 victory over Jamaica on Sunday and served as the fulcrum of El Tri's best performance of the tournament. He ended his tournament by collecting Golden Ball honors and lifting the Gold Cup trophy on the field at Lincoln Financial Field.
Guardado takes his expected place in our Gold Cup Best XI. The assembled group represents five of the eight quarterfinalists with performances in the group stage and the knockout round both playing a part in cobbling together our team.
Goalkeeper: Jaime Penedo (Panama)
There were several blips along the way in this tournament for goalkeepers. Penedo ultimately proved the most consistent of the lot for a Panamanian side in need of his aid along the way. His performance in the penalty kick victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the quarterfinals applied a punctuation mark to his work for the duration of the tournament. USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan nearly edged out Penedo for his displays in this accounting and won the Golden Gloves award for top goalkeeper in the competition.
Defender: Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica)
Lawrence -- with all factors considered -- stood out as the best defender in this tournament. The New York Red Bulls left back locked down opposing wingers with regularity and then pushed forward intelligently to help his team on the break. He played a critical role for a team that functioned wonderfully for much of this tournament.
Defender: Wes Morgan (Jamaica)
The rock in middle of the Jamaican defense established the impenetrable baseline. He operated as an immovable force, the sort of defender capable of manhandling opposing forwards and somehow sliding into position if they eluded him. There were no frills to his work. The Leicester City captain just carried out his duties relentlessly for the duration of the tournament.
Defender: Roman Torres (Panama)
It is tough to imagine a crueler fate than the indignity foisted upon Torres as full time approached in the semifinal against Mexico. The Panama captain functioned as the bedrock for his team for the entire tournament (including in the third-place game), but he suffered through the suspect penalty decision responsible for yanking away a deserved place in the final. His role in the second penalty was clearer, but it did not erase his work throughout the tournament.
Midfielder: Michael Bradley (United States)
There were only a few standout performers for the Americans during this tournament, but Bradley -- named captain for the tournament by Jurgen Klinsmann prior to the warm-up friendly against Guatemala -- ranked among them. One snapshot summed up his contributions: He waved his arms feverishly to procure a response from his teammates after scoring the only goal in the semifinal defeat to Jamaica.
Midfielder: Rodolph Austin (Jamaica)
Austin served as the heart and soul in the middle of the compact Jamaican shape. He organized the team impeccably and urged his players to reduce the space between the lines. His combative, effective presence typified the way his team approached its duties and marched through this tournament.
Midfielder: Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago)
Several wingers impressed during this tournament -- Garath McCleary offered plenty on the right for Jamaica, for example -- and Jones takes the one berth allotted to them. His mixture of delivery and output made him the primary supply line to the T&T front two.
Midfielder: Andres Guardado (Mexico)
Guardado stood out as the best player in the tournament for a Mexico side that often flattered to deceive even as it won the title. Time and time again, the captain stepped up in pressure-packed situations. His exquisite goal in the final provided a just reward for his contributions.
Forward: Clint Dempsey (United States)
Dempsey combined with Bradley to pose the only constant threat for the Americans in this tournament. He padded his total with a hat trick against Cuba in the quarterfinal and a tally against Panama in the third-place match, but his overall production -- seven goals, tops in the tournament -- ensures his place here.
Forward: Giles Barnes (Jamaica)
Barnes saved his best work for the knockout stage to provide Jamaica with the necessary goals to ally with the well-drilled shape and structure. He snatched the winner against Haiti in the quarterfinals and then thumped home a free kick to dispatch the United States in the semifinals.
Forward: Kenwyne Jones (Trinidad and Tobago)
The veteran captain led T&T by example through the four matches. His robust, willing work up front provided a touchstone in desperate need of a reliable presence up front. It came as no surprise to see him score in the quarterfinal against Panama and then sweep home the fifth penalty in that protracted shootout.