Maybe the U.S. men's national soccer team was just practicing celebrating Sunday.
A Brek Shea goal in the 68th minute of the Gold Cup final gave the United States a 1-0 victory against Panama in front of 57,920 mostly pro-American fans at Soldier Field. It also was the Americans' 11th straight win, leaving the team brimming with confidence heading into the final stretch of qualifying this fall for June's World Cup in Brazil.
"I think soccer in this country is unstoppable," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said, basking in the moment. "You can't stop it. It will get only better. It will get bigger."
The United States has solidified its spot as one of the top two teams in this region, if not the best. Maybe joining the world's elite will come sooner rather than later.
"You always want to see progress," said Klinsmann, who watched the match from a Soldier Field suite after being banned from the sidelines for his antics at the end of Wednesday's semifinal. "You want to see the guys improve. You want to see the guys grow. You want to see them mature. I think over the last two years you saw a lot of players reach another level. ... We want to help them get to the next level again."
With four qualifiers to play this fall, the United States is in very good position to clinch a spot in Brazil. But for the players in this tournament, considered part of the Americans' "B" team, it's still an uphill battle to make that roster. This tournament was also about showing they belong on the "A" squad.
"Hopefully this is just the beginning for a lot of us, and we want to be part of the bigger picture," veteran forward/midfielder Landon Donovan said.
Donovan almost surely secured his return to the world stage, but the next generation of players was on display at the Gold Cup, looking to earn their way too.
"There are a lot of guys in this camp who are trying to put themselves in a good position to make the World Cup team, and a lot of them did justice in this tournament," U.S. forward Eddie Johnson said. "I'm happy to be a part of this team, and we're going to go enjoy ourselves right now."
One of those young players who did himself justice is Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who played in just one game this tournament but showed he might get the call to back up Tim Howard and southwest suburban native Brad Guzan in Brazil.
"We want to see (if) are you ready for that (next level)," Klinsmann said of Sean Johnson, "and he is."
Another of those next-generation players is Shea, a 23-year-old midfielder at Stoke City in England who scored about 40 seconds after entering the game, putting away a cross from right midfielder Alejandro Bedoya that Donovan just missed at the 6-yard box. He called it the "easiest" goal he ever scored.
"Landon made that big run and took all the defenders," Shea said. "He had a fake shot, I guess, but he missed it and took the goalie with him. Whether it was going in or not, I was there just to put it away."
He hopes that goal helped him put away a spot on the team when qualifying resumes Sept. 6.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz