By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – The United States are expecting to really have to scrap it out to clinch a sixth Gold Cup on Wednesday when they face a Jamaica side looking to become only the fourth nation to win the biennial tournament.
Jamaica beat reigning champions Mexico 1-0 to reach the final of the championship of North America, Central America and Caribbean for the second time in a row after 2015.
The Reggae Boyz will be firm underdogs against Bruce Arena’s Team USA in Santa Clara but have proved desperately difficult to break down in the tournament so far, conceding just two goals in five matches.
“I think they’re a different type of Jamaica team than we’ve seen in the past,” Arena said.
“They have a lot of discipline, they’re very strong defensively and they’re hard to play against. That to me is not what you typically see out of a Jamaican team.”
Any hint of complacency in the American camp will have been firmly stamped out by the memory of the stunning 2-1 loss to the Jamaicans in the Gold Cup semi-finals two years ago.
“They’re in the final based on merit,” American goalkeeper Tim Howard told reporters this week.
“They’ve done very well. They’re a powerful team, very athletic, and they’ve shown they defend very well. They get out on the break and they cause problems with their pace.”
Howard said the U.S. were becoming used to grinding out wins, having already prevailed against both El Salvador and Costa Rica in tense, physical matches.
“It’ll be a tough game for us,” the 38-year-old added.
“I think the last two games have been tough for us. This one is no different.”
For the hosts, a Gold Cup title would be a welcome boost of confidence before attention shifts back the final stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
It would also mark a 14-game unbeaten run for the team since Arena took the helm from Juergen Klinsmann in November following losses in the first two matches of the six-team “Hex” qualifying round.
“Four months ago we were rebuilding our program – a program that was in desperate shape for being in position to qualify for the World Cup and all other things,” Arena said.
“I think we’ve made great strides over the last four months, and this is a great opportunity for us to continue to make progress.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Nick Mulvenney)