With a spot to the Gold Cup Final on the line, the United State Men’s National Team battled the Reggae Boys of Jamacia in fast paced and energetic contest. Given the compact schedule of such a tournament, head coach Gregg Berhalter made four modifications to his lineup. Centerback Matt Miazga, winger Jordan Morris, outside back Reggie Cannon and Jozy Altidore at striker akk started in place of Walker Zimmerman, Tyler Boyd, Nick Lima and Gyasi Zardes respectively.
On the eve of America’s Independence Day, it didn’t take long for the fireworks to start in this battle. In the opening minute of play, the USMNT nearly scored when Christian Pulisic glided by numerous Jamaican defenders and created a dangerous opportunity. It was an omen of what was to come for the Red, White and Blue. Cannon also nearly opened the scoring for the match in the 7th minute when his open shot down the right flank hit side netting.
The breakthrough for Berhalter’s team came in the 9th minute, with what was a beautiful team goal. The attack commenced thanks to a phenomenal long diagonal ball from U.S. veteran Michael Bradley to Cannon, who sent a cross from the flank to an on-running Weston McKennie. The midfielder called off Altidore near the center of the 18-yard box and slotted the right-footed shot into the net for the first goal of the match.
Despite the early goal-against, Andre Blake was on his A-game for Jamaica, making three key saves in the first 15 minutes of play. The first was a point blank stop after Paul Arriola had a ball spill to his feet. Blake charged off his goal line and got his paw on the shot. The second save came via a free kick from Pulisic, who bent a gorgeous ball around the Jamaican wall and nearly found the back of the net. Blake showed his phenomenal athleticism by extending to his left, snagging a piece of the shot to send it wide. A third save arose from another U.S. set piece that Blake saved out of the air, but he dropped when he collided with his own defender. The goalkeeper made amends by immediately rising up, making himself big and capturing another point-blank save.
The U.S. kept the pressure on, with wave after wave of an attack. The Reggae Boys defenders were hard-pressed on how to thwart the offensive onslaught. Mother Nature gave the Yellow and Green a reprieve in the 17th minute when the referee halted the game due to lightening advisory, which led to a 90-minute delay.
After play resumed, a reinvigorated and reorganized Jamaican team showed up. They began to find their rhythm offensively and penetrated the USMNT defense. Fortunately, none of the opportunities led to a goal. The opening half concluded with the Stars & Stripes ahead 1-0. Jamaica spiritedly fought back, but the U.S. maintained control through to the end of the first half.
The second half opened with both teams seeking the pivotal next goal. Just seven minutes into the second half, the U.S. made it 2-0 when Jordan Morris received a phenomenal through ball from McKennie on the run. Morris struck the ball in stride, causing Blake to make a save but the rebound bounced to a goal-crashing Pulisic who buried the loose ball into the goal in the 52nd minute.
Columbus Crew SC Designated Player Gyasi Zardes made his way into the match for Jozy Altidore in the 55th minute. Just two minutes after entering, Zardes had his first chance on goal setup for him thanks to a glorious through ball from McKennie, but the Columbus striker missed well wide of the goal.
The second goal for the Red, White and Blue seemed to lead to taking their foot off of the gas. Jamaica was able to possess the ball in their attacking third of the field, while the U.S. played less urgent and more methodically. In the 69th minute, Jamaica capitalized on an American turnover when Shamar Nicholson buried a header past Zack Steffen. It was the first goal given up by the USMNT in the entire tournament.
Jamaica kept the pressure on, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Steffen and company. However, the nail in the Jamaican coffin came in the 87th minute when Pulisic found the back of the net off of a rebound from an Arriola shot.
While the final 20 minutes had hectic and nervy moments, the U.S. stayed calm, cool and collected and was able to finish off the 3-1 victory. In the most sought after and highly predicted match of the tournament, the USMNT will battle arch rival Mexico in the Gold Cup final on Sunday at 9 p.m. EST.
Weston McKennie: The Schalke midfielder was involved early and often. He created numerous chances and aggressively finished a scoring chance as well. McKennie was the engine of the U.S. squad, connecting, linking and defending.
Michael Bradley: The often heckled former USMNT captain showed himself well, dishing out effective yet subtle connecting passes, on top of his point-of-attack switching long balls. Jamaica found him to be so effective, they had forward Darren Mattocks follow Bradley throughout the field to subdue his astute play.
Christian Pulisic: The wonder kid was as good as advertised. The Chelsea man was incredibly active and problematic for Jamaica. He finished two goals and created numerous scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. This young man is playing on a whole new level.