It might not have the same juice that Mexico vs. USMNT would have naturally possessed but still, the American men are playing for their sixth Gold Cup title on Wednesday night (9:30, FS1) as they host Jamaica at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. It remains a very meaningful match regardless of the CONCACAF opponent.
Despite some sketchy moments early on in the tourney, the United States was expected to be here and they performed well in the semifinals on Saturday night as they dispatched Costa Rica, 2-0, at AT&T Stadium in Dallas thanks to a pair of second half goals from long-time standouts Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey (his 57th tally for the USMNT, tying Landon Donovan’s record). For a tournament that has been devoid of many great games or moments, the Jamaicans undoubtedly provided the biggest upset of these past three weeks as they shocked Mexico, 1-0, on Sunday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence’s brilliant free kick in the 88th minute proved to be the game-winner in one of his country’s best-ever sporting results: it was the first time that they had ever beaten Mexico at a Gold Cup.
Head coach Bruce Arena’s team is bidding for its first Gold Cup championship since 2013 (a 1-0 win over Panama), and while they have gone 14-2-8 all-time vs. Jamaica (including 11-1-3 on American soil and 3-1-0 in the Gold Cup), that lone Gold Cup defeat remains painful since it happened in the 2015 semifinals (a 2-1 Jamaica victory). Jamaica has only been to the World Cup once – in 1998 – so while it is not a powerhouse by any means, it is more than capable of pulling off another surprising result. For MLS fans, there should be some familiar names on Jamaica as eight players on their current roster compete professionally stateside. Former UConn star Andre Blake has been the best goalkeeper in the Gold Cup with three clean sheets to his credit. Other MLS players include defenders Oniel Fisher (Seattle), Shaun Francis (Montreal), Alvas Powell (Portland) and Jermaine Taylor (Minnesota) along with midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson (New England) and forward Darren Mattocks (Portland).
As an American, it’s tough to muster much negativity towards Jamaica since it’s such a popular vacation/honeymoon spot, plus The Reggae Boyz might be the best nickname of any country’s national soccer team in the world. Mexico dominated possession vs. Jamaica (69-31 percent) but they each ended up with the same amount of shots on goal (5). The U.S. will have to be purposeful in its attacking runs since Jamaica will most likely take a similar approach of waiting back and then trying to capitalize on its few golden chances (free kicks, corner kicks, etc.). The USMNT seems to be peaking at the right time in the Gold Cup and Dempsey’s impact as a substitute vs. Costa Rica (he also had a gorgeous assist on Altidore’s impressive goal) has proven that his best value in the 2018 World Cup could be in short bursts off the bench.