This is it. This is for all the marbles. The United States have clawed their way through the Gold Cup and have reached the final, to take place tomorrow night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The USMNT, after having a scary go of it during the group stage, has settled down a bit in the knockout stage, taking out El Salvador and Costa Rica by 2-0 scores. They reach their first Gold Cup final since they brought the trophy home in 2013.
Mexico Jamaica, who beat Mexico 1-0 Sunday night at the Rose Bowl, which is always a home game for El Tri. Jamaica hasn’t been flashy during this tournament, a Kemar Lawrence free kick Sunday night notwithstanding. Still, they have done what they needed to do to advance and their defense has looked great while doing it. They appear to be a team on the mission, quietly vanquishing opponents while seeking to return to the Gold Cup final for the second straight tournament. We cannot understate this: Jamaica can win this game. We saw how they can play 2 years ago, as they beat the USMNT in the Gold Cup semifinals. This time, the USMNT has to truly play their best game of the tournament if they want to lift the trophy.
W (2-0) – Costa Rica – Gold Cup Semifinal
W (2-0) – El Salvador – Gold Cup Quarterfinal
W (3-0) – Nicaragua – Gold Cup Group B
W (3-2) – Martinique – Gold Cup Group B
D (1-1) - Panama – Gold Cup Group B
W (1-0) – Mexico – Gold Cup Semifinal
W (2-1) – Canada – Gold Cup Quarterfinal
D (1-1) – El Salvador – Gold Cup Group C
D (0-0) – Mexico – Gold Cup Group C
W (2-0) – Curaçao – Gold Cup Group C
What to Watch for
Andre Blake: Andre Blake was in another world against Mexico, and he’s a great young goalkeeper that has done quite well during the Gold Cup. The Philadelphia Union #1 is a keeper that many on the USMNT are familiar with, but on the grand stage the final provides, you have to assume he will be bringing his A game, so that means that the USMNT cannot take scoring chances for granted. Finding open spaces and cutting through the Jamaican defense is what they want to do to create these chances. The USMNT can’t get frustrated if Blake makes a couple great stops. Just keep shooting, and the chances will come.
Speed: Jamaica has a lot of speed in the middle and on the wings, and this could put the USMNT on their toes. How do you combat that? Possession and smart decisions with the ball. The midfield has handled that well the past couple matches, and it will be important to keep their speed at bay. Also, having the ball and sending it forward will mean that their offensive speed will have to track back and expend energy playing defense. That will help tire out the midfielders and slow down their team.
Bend, don’t break: It’s time for the defense to play their best match of the year, and they will need to matchup with Jamaica’s strikers and midfielders. They can’t let anything behind them, and hopefully they leave the mistakes that have plagued them this tournament in the past. And, everyone will need to contribute as well. Midfielders should track back when necessary so that we always have several bodies behind the ball. Tim Howard has been great when he needs to be during the knockout stage, but the defense needs to step up now and produce its best effort.
This entire tournament, USMNT coach Bruce Arena has shuffled his lineup every single match, opting for fresh legs and keeping everyone involved. But, this is the Final…does he go with his best lineup or does he continue to shuffle the deck? It’s been hard to predict, but I think Arena does a bit of both:
In goal, it’s no surprise: Tim Howard will be our starter. On defense, I think Arena will go with the back line that started against El Salvador: Justin Morrow, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, and Eric Lichaj. I thought Matt Besler was a bit better against Costa Rica than Hedges was against El Salvador, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pair with Gonzalez in the middle.
In the midfield, our captain, Michael Bradley, will continue to be the quarterback of the offense. Next to him, I think Arena will opt for a bit more of a defensive-minded approach, so look for Dax McCarty here. I’d rather have Kellyn Acosta here, but I think the shuffled lineup will continue. On the wings, Darlington Nagbe will get another start and Arena will go with Gyasi Zardes on the other wing.
Up front, Arena will start with the tandem that got them to the final: Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. Dempsey will be tasked with taking the game right at the heart of Jamaica’s defense, and we can have some fresher legs come in behind him if necessary late. This match possibly could have the coolest temps of any of the matches in this tournament (and that’s including the climate controlled AT&T Stadium), so the guys should have that much more juice to go hard. I can’t imagine Arena will go with Jordan Morris or Juan Agudelo ahead of either Jozy or Deuce for the final, but only time will tell.
The United States are going to try and control the tempo against Jamaica. I think that several players, including the entire back line, will have their absolute best performance of the tournament. Ultimately, the USMNT will be too much for Jamaica and win the Gold Cup 2-0 behind goals from two unlikely players: Matt Hedges and Dax McCarty.
What are you expecting tomorrow? What lineup do you think Arena rolls out? Whose performance is the key to victory? Hit the comments and let’s hear it!