By: Mike Corrado
With so much riding on this one game, there were bound to be some fireworks, and oh boy did we get some big ones. Both teams walked out on the field at Levi’s Stadium Wednesday night following incredible victories for both sides, with the United States beating Costa Rica with a dominating 2-0 victory, and Jamaica upsetting Mexico by way of a late bomb of a free kick from Kemar Lawrence. Head Coach for the United States, Bruce Arena, opted to field the same starting XI from their previous Gold Cup match against Costa Rica, whereas the Jamaican team featured many changes from their upset victory over Mexico.
22 minutes into the game, and Jamaica was dealt a massive blow, as star goalkeeper Andre Blake was forced off the field with a hand injury seconds after making an incredible double save on subsequent shots from Jozy Altidore and Kellyn Acosta, to be replaced by Dwayne Miller. Miller was able to hold strong in goal for Jamaica, however just before the stroke of halftime, Jozy Altidore managed to score on an absolute stunner of a free kick, which allowed the USA to enter the second half up a goal, and with every bit of momentum. Their momentum boost was short-lived, however, as 5 minutes into the second half, midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson snuck past Jordan Morris and was able to slot home a corner kick to tie the game at 1. As the game dragged onward, a sign of hope came in the form of Clint Dempsey. "Deuce", as he's known, is currently sitting dead even with Landon Donovan for the all-time lead in goals scored for the United States in International competitions, and surely felt the buzz of the crowd as he stepped onto the pitch to replace Kellyn Acosta. After only being on the pitch for 10 minutes, Dempsey nearly put the US ahead as his shot rang off of the post and out, setting up a tense final 15 minutes.
On the stroke of the 87th minute, a cross from Gyasi Zardes deflected off of Clint Dempsey and directly onto the right foot of Jordan Morris, who powered the ball past Dwayne Miller to mark his first major contribution to the National Team, as well as capping off what has been an incredible cup run for the Stanford product. The game-winner, which came after a barrage of near goals from the United States sent the stadium into a frenzy, and gave the boys in red, white, and blue total control over the match.
With only seconds remaining in the match, Jamaica pushed as hard as they could, nearly scoring on a blistering shot from the edge of the 18-yard box, but it just wasn't enough. As the final whistle blew, tears streaked down Jordan Morris' face, as he embraced his Seattle Sounders teammate Christian Roldan post-victory. The stunning last second goal gave the United States their sixth Gold Cup, and their first since 2013. The victory marks the first trophy won in Bruce Arena’s current stint as manager of the team, as he had taken the position from former coach Jürgen Klinnsman at the end of 2016.
The competition in it's entirety apart from winning the Cup was a major success in terms of squad depth, as for the majority of each of the games in the group stage of tournaments, Bruce Arena fielded a team of mostly first-time international players, such as Dom Dwyer and Kelyn Rowe, who both provided ample offensive firepower in the early stages of the tournament. While both players were dropped from the team's knockout-level roster, both have been totally different players in their first matches back with Sporting KC and the Revolution, as a clear leader's mentality has shone through. Rowe was seen bossing around his midfield group of Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, Gershon Koffie and Scott Caldwell, and Dwyer's added experience earned him a transfer to Eastern Conference playoff hopeful Orlando City SC, where the team has been dying for an experienced, proven striker to replace the enigma that is Cyle Larin.
A lot of question marks do still surround the team, as their goalkeeping core is aging, with Tim Howard and Brad Guzan both nearing retirement, and no truly ready young replacement is in the wings prepared to take over. When Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley both finally decide to hang up their cleats, who will take over as captain? What players will Bruce Arena take on with him to the World Cup next summer? Only time will tell, however, this Gold Cup run has lit the fire in the hearts of the U.S. team, and has made the upcoming months much easier for Bruce Arena and co. to prepare for the upcoming winter battles to play in Russia next Summer.
The Men’s team will play again on September 1st, as they'll be facing Costa Rica in a World Cup Qualifier Match.
Photo: (San Francisco Chronicle)
Video: (Fox Soccer)