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CONCACAF Gold Cup 2019: Semifinal preview

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Four teams remain.

Soccer: International Friendly Soccer-Venezuela at USA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup has reached the semifinal round, with three expected participants and one relative surprise inclusion. It’s been a high scoring competition, with an average of 3.21 goals per match, far surpassing the 2017 edition’s 2.2 average. This fixture pairing will likely continue the trend, as all four countries possess the ability to light up the scoreboard.

Each team brings its own story line into the round. Jamaica is looking to reach its third consecutive final, but also capture its elusive first Gold Cup. Haiti has never advanced past the quarterfinal; a semifinal victory could signify a new sporting golden age that the national team program hasn’t experienced since the 1970s. Mexico can cement its dominance over the region, while integrating another generation of talent into the team. The United States is searching for an identity following the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and capturing this competition would be a desperately necessary life preserver.

The stage is set. The pieces are in play. A spot in the final at Chicago, Illinois’ Soldier Field is on the line.

Schedule

July 2

Haiti vs. Mexico

10:00 p.m. (Eastern), 7:00 p.m. (Pacific)

State Farm Stadium — Glendale, Arizona

July 3

Jamaica vs. United States

9:00 p.m. (Eastern), 6:00 p.m. (Pacific)

Nissan Stadium — Nashville, Tennessee

Haiti vs. Mexico

To the casual and the expert viewer (and everyone in between), this fixture has the trappings of David versus Goliath. Mexico, despite missing several players, has a stacked squad of European stars and domestic prospects. Haiti has never beaten Mexico, sporting an all-time 0-7-2 record. However, this is CONCACAF, where the impossible is merely improbable, and the improbable is routine.

Haiti stormed through the group stage with nine points, impressing with their dynamic attacking. In the quarterfinal round, Les Grenadiers came back from two goals down to defeat a strong Canadian side, 3-2. Duckens Nazon (Sint-Truiden) and Frantzdy Pierrot (Royal Excel Mouscron) have led a front line that will now face its most difficult challenge.

Mexico had a predictable experience in Group A, easing past Canada, Martinique, and Cuba. However, El Tri narrowly escaped Costa Rica in the quarterfinal, requiring a 5-4 decision on penalties to advance. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa stepped up and saved the final attempt from Keysher Fuller, keeping his country’s Gold Cup dreams alive.

In an interesting twist, Mexico will be without manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino. The recently hired manager received his second yellow card of the tournament, triggering the accumulation suspension. According to Felipe Cárdenas of The Athletic, the likely temporary replacement is Jorge Theiler; the former Newell’s Old Boys defender was Martino’s assistant at several clubs, but has limited managerial experience.

One to watch (Haiti): Wilde-Donald Guerrier scored the winner in the quarterfinal victory over Canada. While the Qarabağ player will be essential on the attack (particularly feeding the ball into Nazon and Pierrot), it’s his incredible recovery speed that will be required to aid the defensive effort. At 30-years-old, he’s one of the side’s veterans and will be counted on to provide stability against a very strong opponent.

One to watch (Mexico): Raúl Jiménez is chasing the tournament’s Golden Boot, with four goals so far. It’s inevitable that the towering striker will have scoring opportunities against a center back pairing of Andrew Jean-Baptiste (Umeå FC) and Jems Geffrard (Fresno FC). Barring an out of character performance, expect the Wolverhampton Wanderers attacker to convert his chances.

Prediction: Mexico shakes off the cobwebs after a difficult quarterfinal. Haiti attempts to answer, but is caught pushing players forward to get back into the match. Mexico wins, 3-0.

Jamaica vs. United States

In a rematch of the 2017 final (and a recently pre-tournament friendly), Jamaica and the United States face off for a chance at claiming CONCACAF supremacy. The former is looking to finally claim its first Gold Cup after two straight runners-up finishes; the latter can win its seventh tournament, tying with Mexico. Both teams are weakened and coming off difficult quarterfinal matches.

The Reggae Boyz underwhelmed during the group stage, winning Group C with five points and a 0-1-2 record. Their quarterfinal victory was also uninspiring, a 1-0 victory over Panama via a Darren Mattocks penalty conversion. Perhaps they’ve been saving their impressive performances for the latter stages of the tournament, but it will be an uphill climb for this squad. Further complicating matters, manager Theodore Whitmore will be without the services of starting center back Damion Lowe due to yellow card accumulation; the IK Start defender was cautioned in the 90th minute for time wasting.

Meanwhile, if confidence in the United States men’s national team were described in highly technical and alienating-to-a-layperson stock market terms, it would be considered volatile. Public approval was at a high for Gregg Berhalter’s nascent tenure following the 6-0 dismantling of Trinidad and Tobago, but it has slowly eroded over the course of the following two matches. The 1-0 win over Panama in the final group play match illustrated to some that this team doesn’t possess the depth of previous sides. A 1-0 quarterfinal win over an emerging Curaçao side evoked discussion of regressive tactics and ineptitude in the final third.

The USMNT can no longer sit back and wait out their opponents. Although they have yet to fully demonstrate, Jamaica has the individual talent to counteract a bunker through long-range efforts and creative solo forays into the box. Berhalter must coax a more complete performance from his midfield, while hoping his energetic attacking group can coalesce into a more cohesive unit.

One to watch (Jamaica): For all of the deserved anticipation surrounding his inclusion in the squad, Leon Bailey has yet to deliver the dazzling performances that have entertained the Bundesliga. The Bayern Leverkusen winger has a grand total of zero goals and zero assists, but looked his most dynamic in the second half against Panama. Provided lineup selections remain relatively stagnant, he should have a fairly appealing match-up against defender Tim Ream.

One to watch (United States): Zack Steffen pulled off a magnificent save against Curaçao, something he will have to repeat if the USMNT is going to win the tournament. This team has yet to allow a goal, a streak that would be impressive and possibly unprecedented if seen through to its conclusion. Any doubts to his claim of the number one spot are quieted, but goalkeepers can be one nightmare performance away from exclusion.

Prediction: The two sides head to extra time tied, but the host nation is able to find a winner off a set piece. USMNT wins, 2-1.


Which match will be more exciting? Which players are you looking forward to watching? Who will make it to the final? Let us know in the comment section.