With the Hex now over and teams fully qualified (wait, sorry Mexico, you are not qualified yet), Jon breaks out his Top 5 players from the Hex in our latest in the Top 5 Lists series.
5) Giancarlo Gonzalez, D, Costa Rica
The Vålerenga man, who can play in various spots along the back line, was a revelation for Jorge Luis Pinto, starting every Hex match after a successful Copa Centroamericana campaign. After the infamous snow match in Colorado, the Costa Rica defense ran off four consecutive clean sheets and then allowed only one goal against the U.S. on the way to clinching a World Cup berth. Gonzalez was excellent, whether anchoring a five-man back line or pairing with Michael Umaña. Perhaps a good campaign in Brazil will be enough to get the 25-year-old to a more prestigious European league.
4) Jerry Bentgson, F, Honduras
With potential like he showed in the Hex, it’s easy to see why the New England Revolution want to keep Bentgson. He was Honduras leading scorer in qualifying with nine goals in all rounds, putting him in the same ranks as Falcao and Gonzalo Higuain. In the Hex, he and Carlo Costly both had four goals in the Hex, but Bentgson not only scored more important goals, he also equaled Costly’s mark despite missing los Catrachos’ match against the United States because of a falling out with the manager.
3) Bryan Ruiz, M, Costa Rica
Ruiz started the Hex a bit slow but ended qualifying as his country’s top goalscorer. His real influence wasn’t necessarily bagging goals but creating goals for the Ticos. Ruiz has slipped a bit at Fulham but that lag in form didn’t follow him home. Aside from some staunch defense, Ruiz is the biggest reason Costa Rica rolled through the tournament and will be playing in Brazil next year.
2) Michael Bradley, M, United States
The best player on the best team calmly guided the U.S. to qualification and the top spot in the Hex. He was injured but not needed in the team’s final four matches. In the previous six, he’d been the Michael Bradley Americans have come to know and love. Winning back possession? Passing success rate in the high 90s? Getting forward when necessary? Bradley did it all and did it well.
1) Jozy Altidore, F, United States
Altidore was the best scorer on the best team, but that’s not the only reason he finished first. The Sunderland striker elevated his game in the final qualifying round and found lots of ways to score. Whether it was the lone goal at home against Honduras or an opener in Kingston, Jamaica, Altidore was there when needed. Can Altidore ride his hot streak in the Stars and Stripes all the way to Brazil? That’s the question everyone will be asking in 2014.
Also receiving consideration: Alberto Quintero, M, Panama. Graham Zusi, M, United States. Keylor Navas, GK, Costa Rica. Matt Besler, D, United States. Jaime Penedo, GK, Panama. Carlo Costly, F, Honduras.