For the second consecutive edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Jamaica has denied fans of a USA vs Mexico final. In 2015 it came at the hands of the United States in the semi-finals. This year, Kemar Lawrence’s eighty-eighth-minute free kick sent Mexico home. The Reggae Boyz have proven yet again that they can fight with the region’s top dogs.
Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not.
The region could use a team that challenges the typical USA and Mexico dominance. Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Panama are starting to establish themselves as real contenders for Gold Cup titles. Canada has proven that they are on the right track to join those teams, too.
But alas, we are down to the final two teams of this rendition of the Gold Cup. From French Guiana fielding an ineligible player in Florent Malouda which gifted Honduras a trip to the quarterfinals without scoring a goal in group play, to Alphonso Davies breaking out as a starlet with a massive amount of potential – this tournament never fails to amaze its fans.
Road to the finals
The hosts and home team for this game, the United States, didn’t have the smoothest route to the finals that some had hoped. The Yanks opened the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Panama that exploited their weakness against the counter-attack. The next game they had to fight off Martinique with a go-ahead goal by Jordan Morris to win 3-2. Their final group stage game was a 3-0 win over Nicaragua, which made them group winners based on goal difference.
After a shaky group stage, the US handled a heated match with El Salvador and won 2-0. Their next match, against Costa Rica, ended with the same score line.
Jamaica has had to put some gutsy performances in on their road to the finals. An opening 2-0 win over Curacao was then followed with a scoreless draw with Mexico. Their final match in the group stage, which had third place qualification implications on the line, saw the Caribbean side fight back to draw 1-1 with El Salvador.
In the quarterfinals, Jamaica held off a Canadian comeback and won 2-1. This set up a date with Mexico in Pasadena, California. Many expected a Mexican triumph, but a late free kick from Kemar Lawrence sent the Jamaicans to the Gold Cup finals.
Players to watch
The USMNT called in heavy reinforcements between the group stage and the knockout stage. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore were two of the six replacements, and they both were the scorers in their semifinal win over Costa Rica. The player to watch, however, is goalkeeper Tim Howard. His 2014 World Cup performance against Belgium made him a nationally-known name. Three years later he will be called on yet again to help lift the US to glory. The Jamaicans have plenty of firepower and have shown this tournament that they are capable of catching teams off guard.
Jamaica’s Darren Mattocks has been vital in Jamaica’s run to the championship. His key runs cause fits for defenses and his vision helps set up his teammates for easy goals. The Portland Timbers striker will be a critical component in their attack towards the US defense, which has been shaky a few times this tournament.
Keys to win
The US has to make sure to give their strikers clear chances on goal. Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake has been a star for the Reggae Boyz and has at times single-handedly kept them in games. It will take pinpoint finishes to get past the Philadelphia Union player, and even then it might not be enough. Blake was the reason why the Jamaicans eliminated the US in the 2015 Gold Cup, and he very well might be the deciding factor of the match.
Jamaica’s counter attack has been deadly so far this tournament. The US defense against the counter attack? Not so well. They have the speed and clinical finishing to put away their chances and will look to attack the US full-backs. As long as Andre Blake and the Jamaican defense helps keep the hosts at bay, the visitors should get plenty of chances to catch the United States on the counter.
Date: Wednesday, July 26
Kickoff: 9:30 PM ET
Location: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, CA)
Watch: Fox Sports 1, Univision