Sun, Jan

Dempsey, Kenwyne Jones highlight Gold Cup group stage Best XI

Trinidad and Tobago captain Kenwyne Jones basked in the achievement of his side in the aftermath of the 4-4 draw with Mexico on Wednesday.

The chaotic and utterly entertaining draw sent T&T through to the last eight as Group C winners. It marked a considerable achievement for T&T and underscored the growth in this young squad over the past couple of years.

Jones praised his teammates and tried to place the achievement in context. He also noted the fantastic nature of the second half within the framework of a tournament that often lacked intrigue for much of the group stage.

“I think that’s something that you dream for,” Jones said. “I don’t think there was a game like that in the Gold Cup so far. So I’m pretty sure it’s going to attract quite a few more people to watch it [back home]. The support has been good so far.”

Jones’ man-of-the-match display forced him onto our list of the top performers during the group stage. It is a list that reflects the egalitarian nature of a competition where the top teams aren’t firing just yet (the four World Cup qualifiers last year contributed just three players) and resurgence of Caribbean sides (six members of this side hail from the four Caribbean sides through to the last eight).

Goalkeeper: Kenny Stamatopoulos (Canada)

Stamatopoulos spent much of the group stage under considerable duress. He navigated through it deftly and produced several fine saves to keep the Canadians within touching distance of a berth in the last eight. His performances vindicated Benito Floro's decision to select him in goal with regular number one Milan Borjan tending to Champions League duties with Ludogorets.

Defender: Sheldon Bateau (Trinidad and Tobago)

The Belgium-based defender played a critical role in both penalty areas for T&T during group play. Bateau scored twice to help T&T claim a quarterfinal berth after two matches and set out the defensive stall as well. The promising center back will hope to continue his development as T&T attempt to mount a deep run into the tournament.

Defender: Elias Vasquez (Guatemala)

Guatemala submitted the defensive performance of the group stage in the 0-0 draw against Mexico. Vasquez found himself at the heart of those efforts in the center of the Guatemalan defense. His defiance played a considerable role in that draw and the subsequent place in the last eight.

Defender: Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica)

Lawrence performed well during the recent spell in the Copa América and sustained that form in the early stages of this tournament. His industry ensures competent work at the back and reliable width on the overlap.

Midfielder: Michael Bradley (United States)

Bradley -- the only U.S. player to feature for every minute so far this year -- once again served as the driving force in central midfield. His industry, passing range and his willingness to make the late run into the penalty area makes him an important component going forward. The equalizer against Panama -- including some good work in the buildup and a timely finish to round off the move -- summed up his contributions nicely. 

Midfielder: Rodolph Austin (Jamaica)

The midfield line is an area of particular strength for the Group B winners. Austin serves as the fulcrum within it, the linchpin expected to establish the tone and spread it throughout the team. His displays during the group stage -- including the critical late winner against Canada -- reinforced the reasons why his presence is so critical for the Jamaicans. 

Midfielder: Andrés Guardado (Mexico)

There were few positives for Mexico during the disjointed run through Group C, but Guardado featured among them. The veteran midfielder accepts his given role and functions deftly within it. His steady presence adds heft to the Mexican midfield whether he operates on the left or slots into the midfield three, while his well-taken goal against Trindad and Tobago reinforces his enduring quality in the final third.

Midfielder: Joevin Jones (Trinidad & Tobago)

The enterprising Chicago Fire left back offers plenty of intent and width when deployed on the wing. Jones' attacking qualities provide T&T with a ready avenue to break quickly on the left. His goal against Guatemala reinforced his ability to make an impact in front of goal (as Fire fans well know by this point), while his inch-perfect corner for the equalizer against Mexico supplied a justified punctuation mark for his contributions. 

Forward: Clint Dempsey (United States)

Klinsmann underscored the need for Dempsey to push aside the recent controversy surrounding his conduct in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match and score regularly in this tournament. Dempsey responded by propelling the Americans to the top of Group A with three goals in three matches. He isn't the captain for this tournament, but he continues to shoulder a heavy load. The demands will only increase with Jozy Altidore released from the squad after the group stage. 

Forward: Kenwyne Jones (Trinidad and Tobago)

T&T won its Gold Cup group for the first time with inspirational captain Jones playing an influential part in the success. Jones led the line diligently by occupying defenders willingly and then punishing them when they ceded space. His performance in the Group C-clinching 4-4 draw against Mexico included a goal and two assists (plus an unfortunate own goal) stands out as perhaps the best individual display in the group stage.

Forward: Duckens Nazon (Haiti)

End product often keeps the aspiring underdog from completing the task. Nazon never found his range against the U.S., but his contributions against Panama and Honduras injected the necessary sharpness in a side with all sorts of endeavor. His willingness to challenge defenders one-versus-one and use his pace relentlessly played a significant part in Haiti's group stage success.