There has never been a question as to which country represents the U.S. men’s soccer team’s most intense and bitter rival: Mexico. For the past few decades, the two top teams in CONCACAF have put together numerous memorable matches in friendlies, World Cup qualifiers and even in World Cup games. With apologies to Jamaica and Panama, that’s the dream matchup which most people want to see this Sunday night (7:30, Fox Sports 1) in the 2015 Gold Cup Final at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. To get there, the U.S. will have to beat Jamaica on Wednesday (6 p.m., Fox Sports 1) in the semifinals at the Georgia Dome while Mexico will meet Panama in the nightcap (8:30, Fox Sports 1).
This is the eighth straight Gold Cup semifinal for the Americans and they have reached the past five finals with titles in 2005, 2007 and the most recent tournament in 2013. Jamaica is almost in uncharted territory since their best Gold Cup finish ever was third-place in 1993 and fourth-place in 1998. This edition of the Reggae Boyz (the catchy nickname for Jamaica’s national team) is no a fluke as they topped Group B with seven points (2-0-1) then knocked off pesky Haiti, 1-0, in the quarterfinals. The U.S. has gotten stronger as the tournament has progressed: they similarly went 2-0-1 to win Group A then they blitzed Cuba 6-0 (their largest margin of victory ever in the Gold Cup) in the quarterfinals behind Clint Dempsey’s first career hat trick (for the national team).
As a former star striker in his native Germany, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann can certainly appreciate Dempsey’s current hot streak more than most.
“What we’ve really enjoyed the last couple weeks is his energy: to come back and help out (defensively) and to constantly stay in the game. He’s hungry for goals and he has two more meals. This is what a striker is keeping in his mind non-stop. This is what drives you. Every day a striker is thinking ‘I want to score.”’
Dempsey has six goals in this tournament (the current golden boot leader also has 47 in his U.S. career including 11 in Gold Cups, which is second-best behind Landon Donovan) but against Jamaica, there is no doubt that he will be marked extra closely. Defender Omar Gonzalez scored his first career goal for the U.S. against Cuba, while breakout star midfielder Gyasi Zardes and striker Aron Johannsson also tallied goals. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan earned his 12th career shutout and second of the tournament. Mexico squeaked by Costa Rica, 1-0, in the quarterfinals thanks to a very controversial penalty kick that they drew in the final minute of extra time while Panama outlasted Trinidad and Tobago, 6-5, in an epic nine-round shootout.