After an exciting 2 weeks of football in the CONCACAF region. North America’s most prestigious regional tournament is now reaching it’s climax with one of two of the usual suspects making it to the final once again. The United States of America has reached the final for the 10th time in their history as they look to win their 6th Gold Cup trophy and 3rd under the command of Head Coach Bruce Arena. Arena has won this competition on two occasions way back in 2002 and 2005 in his first stint as boss of the Stars and Stripes. Their opponent for the Finals is a surprising one, but their opponent is making their 2nd consecutive Gold Cup Final after losing out in 2015 to Mexico. Those opponents are The Reggae Boyz of Jamaica. Jamaica lost out to Mexico in the 2015 final by a score of 3-1 as their chase for their first Gold Cup fell short. They’re back again and looking to finish what they started in 2015 and what they’ve started once again this year. Could Jamaica lock in their very first Gold Cup tonight after falling just short against Mexico? Or could the Yanks lock up their 6th Gold Cup in their history? The Early Sub previews and predicts..
United States v. Jamaica
Of course with only one match left in the tournament, I’ll try to go as in depth into the match as I can. But what a road we took to get here. The Gold Cup has had just about everything that you could expect in CONCACAF. We’ve had the giants do the job with both the United States and Mexico winning their groups. They both easily passed on to the Quarterfinals when the United States took down the titty twisting El Salvador.
Mexico made easy work of Honduras who never seemed like a goal scoring threat the entire tournament. They then both made it to the Semifinals where the United States flattened Costa Rica and Mexico fell flat on their face. Jamaica meanwhile, were placed in the same group as Mexico and finished 2nd to El Tri that included a 1-1 draw in their group stage meeting. After dispatching of the youthful and dangerous Canada, they took on El Tri for a 2nd time in the Semifinals. After a mainly back and forth game that featured play on each side of the field. The Mexicans defense were keeping the Jamaican attack at bay, surely certain that their attack could pierce the Jamaican defense. That goal never came, and in the 88th minute, Kemar Lawrence stepped up for his team and for his nation with a free kick that’ll ring through Jamaican history forever.
The New York Red Bulls fullback would step up to the free kick attempt, about 4-5 yards away from the box, and would release a graceful shot of all sorts of proportions. Easily up and over with Cruz Azul number 1, Jesus Corona helplessly watching it dip under the bar and rippling through the back of the net. It was jubilee for the Jamaicans after Lawrence’s heroics, and now they’ve casted all eyes towards them stepping into their showdown with America. The United States, meanwhile faced off with the likes of Costa Rica in the Semifinal that was tightly contested. The United States were able to keep Bryan Ruiz quiet through a majority of the game, but Los Ticos kept the Yanks well at bay through the 1st half as well. Costa Rica came out hot in the 2nd half and were looming around the Americans box when Bruce Arena subbed out Paul Arriola for Clint Dempsey in the 65th minute. Within minutes of coming on, Dempsey would prove to be the pick that unlocked the Costa Rican defense, when he took off for a 20 yard run, moving past 2 Costa Rican defenders. At the conclusion of his run, he’d lay off a superb ball to Jozy Altidore that gave him a clean look at goal for the first time in the game. The big Toronto FC striker would tuck his shot away in true striker fashion as the Americans put a strike up on the board. Minutes later Dempsey would step up once again, to a free kick opportunity near the right corner of the box. He should a torpedo of a shot, that hugged the turf as the Costa Ricans in the wall would leap in utter hopelessness as the ball tracked under their feet.
Like a home seeking missile it slid past Costa Rican goalkeeper, Pemberton as Dempsey set AT&T Stadium alight. That 2nd goal for the United States tied the all time American goal scoring record with Landon Donovan. Is Dempsey the greatest American soccer player of all time? That’s for another time, but his record tying goal buried Los Ticos and emphatically punched the Yanks’ ticket to the Finals. And with that, here we are. United States v. Jamaica for CONCACAF’s Crown.
It’s not clear if Bruce Arena will start Clint Dempsey tonight, but I certainly don’t think he should. A club is at it’s best when it can develop a consistent lineup, and I think Dempsey could be best utilized as a catalyst off the bench. Just because the starting XI couldn’t rip through Costa Rica’s defense, doesn’t mean they won’t cut up Jamaica’s. Jozy Altidore is still dangerous and Kellyn Acosta is a free roaming attacking midfielder with loads of potential. The leadership of Michael Bradley is back on the side, and the secret weapon Darlington Nagbe has a spot on the starting XI once again. With that being said, it will be anything but a walk in the park for the United States. Jamaica didn’t come this far upsetting Mexico and reaching the finals AGAIN just to lose AGAIN. This generation is adamant to win this trophy, and Jamaica have nothing to lose. They’ve already been eliminated from World Cup Qualifying and this could be their only moment of glory before the next cycle. They showcased their ability to soak up a quality attack when they kept Mexico scoreless in the semifinals. And they proved that their capable of producing that moment of brilliance that is needed to be a champion. Lawrence’s free kick was that moment of brilliance in the Semis, and who knows what that moment of brilliance is in the Final tonight. Full of pace and athleticism, they prey on soaking up attacks and springing forward dangerous counter attacks. Lots of running, lots of patience, but plenty of pace. They’re a dangerous squad, and have proven just how dangerous they were when they proved everyone wrong (and me included) when they upset Canada and Mexico to reach this stage of the competition. This however, is a totally different beast entirely. The United States may not be playing their definitive best squad at this competition, but they still have plenty of talent that showcase their skills in MLS. This XI are still trying to figure out how to mesh, and play together as a unit, but Coach Bruce Arena has them organized and tactically sound. Not many mistakes have been leaking out this back line since their near humiliating performance against Martinique. They walk into this match against The Reggae Boyz, not allowing a single goal since the final game of the Group Stage (3 games). It took them some time, but after a matter of time they ripped open the Costa Rican defense and left them for dead after 70 minutes. They are disciplined, and have their heads where it should be in a grueling tournament like this one. A tournament that has featured the likes of ineligible players taking part, and defenses employing titty twisters as a tactic of defense. They’re locked in, and are ready to seize their moment in Santa Clara as CONCACAF’s alpha male with Arena at the helm. He’s done it twice before, and he’ll do it for a 3rd time. Prediction: It may take a minute or two, but this XI will get it done and will unlock the defense. Jamaica have been wonderful, but they’ll be playing bridesmaids once again as they’ll fall to the United States. Same score at 2015 to Mexico 3-1.