In recent years a golden crop of star names have brought joy to football fans throughout the CONCACAF zone with their skills. Players of the stature of Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco, USA keeper Kasey Keller, the Costa Rican Paulo Cesar Wanchope and Trinidad and Tobago's very own Dwight Yorke regularly grabbed the headlines with immensely valuable contributions to their respective national causes.


But like everything in life, nothing lasts forever. And if one thing became clear at last month's Gold Cup, it is that a new generation is ready to inherit the legacy bequeathed by their illustrious predecessors and carve out niches of their own across the region.

The giants of the north
The tournament honours went to the USA after they mounted a thrilling second-half revival to beat regional foes Mexico 2-1. In so doing, the comeback kids confirmed their recent regional supremacy over their old rivals, earning the right to represent CONCACAF at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 into the bargain.


While the success of Bob Bradley's side was founded on a core of young players with bags of international experience, such as Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, they were ably assisted by a clutch of other players destined for big things on the international stage.


Among them is strong-running Chivas USA full-back Jonathan Bornstein, appearing in his first major tournament with the Stars and Stripes. Elsewhere, having served a long apprenticeship under the evergreen duo Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, Everton's Tim Howard took his chance to shine between the posts with aplomb, and defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra underlined the progress they have made since stepping into the limelight at Germany 2006.


Runners-up Mexico found solace in the performances of their very own up-and-coming stars. Nery Castillo was El Tri's man of the tournament, and with his performances at the Copa America in Venezuela the tireless Olympiakos striker has proved that was no flash in the pan. Another man to make his mark in the USA was Andres Guardado, and along with team-mate Castillo and the rapidly maturing U-20 duo of Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela, his task will be to fulfil the nation's dreams of success at South Africa 2010.

Canada's return and a Caribbean fairytale
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the final, the Gold Cup semi-finalists also have reasons to be cheerful. The renaissance of Canada, for example, was perhaps the story of the tournament. After a lengthy spell in the doldrums the Canucks showed heartening signs of a long-awaited revival, with the ever-improving Julian De Guzman leading the way forward.


The Deportivo La Coruna midfielder received sterling support from Ali Gerba and Atiba Hutchinson, who showed just why they left the country to further their footballing educations in Scandinavia. Both 24, and now building impressive reputations for themselves with Gothenburg and Copenhagen respectively, the Canadian twosome look to have promising futures ahead of them.


Gold Cup sensations Guadeloupe are another side with enough young talent to suggest they can continue to punch above their weight. Although the trio of Jocelyn Angloma, Richard Socrier and David Sommeil are all coming to the end of distinguished careers, striker Loic Loval and midfielder Stephane Auvray are two newcomers with the skills to suggest their days of causing opponents a headache or two have only just begun.

Central America's new breed
Even among the competition's also-rans there was enough promising talent to catch the eye, the standout performer perhaps being Panama's deadly front man Blas Perez. The 26-year-old is sure to be a fundamental part of the Canaleros's bid to break their FIFA World Cup qualifying duck by reaching South Africa 2010.


Not to be outdone, Honduras unveiled a penalty-box predator of their own in Carlos Costly. Currently based in Poland and nicknamed "Boniek" after the classy former Juventus striker, the newly capped forward showed why he could well emulate his idol and prosper in Europe's most challenging leagues.


The 20-year-old Jose Contreras is the man making waves for Guatemala, while El Salvador have high hopes of Dennis Alas, who is just a year older. Even traditional makeweights Cuba managed to cause a ripple or two with the heartening performances of Reynier Alcantara, brothers Jaime and Jael Colome and, most impressively of all, midfield dynamo Oswaldo Alonso.


The rest of the globe has been warned. As CONCACAF's long-serving heroes come to the end of their distinguished careers, the new guard is poised to pick up where they left off and propel the region's football to even greater heights.