The busy summer continues, as the United States Men’s National Team is set to defend the title at the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The 23-day competition will determine the continental champion, an honor thus far limited to the aforementioned co-host as well as Canada and Mexico. First on the schedule is Jamaica, a two-time finalist during the 2015 and 2017 editions. Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois – a 61,500-seat venue featuring a somewhat newly-installed Bermuda grass surface – is set to host.
This is the 32nd all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding a 19-3-9 advantage. Ranked 63rd internationally by FIFA, Jamaica qualified for the 2023 Gold Cup by finishing at second place in the CONCACAF Nations League’s League A Group A. The Reggae Boyz narrowly missed out on the Finals with a 1-0-3 record, registering a win and a tie against Suriname (1-1 and 3-1) and two draws with Mexico (1-1 and 2-2). The program is currently on a ten-match winless streak dating back to June of 2022, with identical 2-1 friendly defeats to Qatar and Jordan.
Following the departure of interim Paul Hall, who attributed his leaving to alleged issues with the program’s support, Heimir Hallgrímsson was appointed to the manager role in September of 2022. The 56-year-old Icelandic dentist most recently led Al-Arabi SC in Qatar but is perhaps best-known for his six-year tenure in charge of his birth nation, a run that included a quarterfinal finish at the 2016 Euro and first-ever qualification to the 2018 World Cup. He was realistic about being drawn into Group A, having hoped to avoid the USMNT but welcoming the opportunity to “measure [himself] with the best.”
Hallgrímsson named a 23-player roster for the Gold Cup, featuring the usual intriguing group of England-based UB40s. American leagues are home to seven of the call-ups, while the majority compete in Europe. The sole domestic inclusion is attacking sensation Dujuan “Whisper” Richards of the Phoenix All Stars Football Academy in Kingston, who will be joining Chelsea when he turns 18 in October.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Jahmali Waite (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), Coniah Boyce-Clarke (Reading)
DEFENDERS (8): Amari’i Bell (Luton Town), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford), Di’Shon Bernard (unattached), Adrian Mariappa (Salford City), Dexter Lembikisa (Wolverhampton), Damion Lowe (Philadelphia Union), Javain Brown (Vancouver Whitecaps), Kemar Lawrence (Minnesota United)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kevon Lambert (Phoenix Rising), Jonathan Russell (Barnsley), Joel Latibeaudiere (Swansea), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Fulham), Daniel Johnson (Preston North End), Kaheem Parris (Dynamo Kyiv)
In the Nations League match against Mexico, Hallgrímsson deployed a 4-4-2 formation, which was also the preferred set-up during his Iceland tenure despite occasional dalliances with the 4-5-1. Jamaica takes risks, sends multiple players forward, and shoots from distance, unafraid to take the game to opponents. This will, naturally, leave gaps in the defensive half and open up the opportunity for counter-attacks.
As has been the case for years, Andre Blake is still the number one for Jamaica. Last season with the Philadelphia Union, the 32-year-old was “one of MLS’ top goalkeepers in terms of preventing goals” and “makes difficult saves look easy” due to his “set positioning” and “highly impressive” footwork. He is an elite shot-stopper and parries the ball away to safety, rarely surrendering the unfortunate rebounds that plague the luckless. Stellar from long distance, dealing with crosses and counter-attacks are a less-influential part of his game.
Kingston-born Damion Lowe joined the Philadelphia Union during the winter transfer window and recently assumed a position in the starting lineup. The 6’3” physical presence is one of MLS’ best tacklers, interceptors of passes, and one-on-one specialists, embodying the blunt definition of the position. Normally, his partner would be Ethan Pinnock, but the Brentford defender will miss the USMNT match “because of a family emergency.” This opens the door for the experienced Adrian Mariappa, a 36-year-old who played every available minute in the final seven matches of the season for Salford City in the EFL League Two. He is a steady outlet on the back line, keeping the game simple with timely interventions, short passes in possession, and static positioning.
Another relatively recent addition to the program, Amari’i Bell was a key figure for Luton Town this season, playing 51 combined matches and earning promotion to the Premier League. The 29-year-old is, simply put, a useful player, disrupting the opponent’s machinations and advancing the ball. On the other end of the back line is Javain Brown of the Vancouver Whitecaps, praised for his “exceptional pace and good distribution.” He covers the entire length of the field and looks to pick out teammates with long passes, hitting particularly dangerous crosses in the final third.
With the mercurial Ravel Morrison out of the squad, recent addition Jon Russell started in both pre-tournament friendlies after making his debut in the Nations League against Mexico, providing a jolt of energy with his confidence and line-breaking passing. The 22-year-old Barnsley holding midfielder stands tall at 6’4”, bullying opponents with his size and sliding deeper into the formation to serve as an additional centre-back. Following 336 appearances with Preston North End, Daniel Johnson could be on the move, potentially ending his seven-and-a-half-year tenure with the Championship side. He brings “control and class,” tearing into the final third with torrid pace and setting up his cultured left foot at the top of the box.
Leon Bailey, once the great hope for the program, completed a somewhat productive season for Aston Villa with five goals and four assists in all competitions. He thrives with the ball at his feet and driving the action, creating for his teammates and always looking for a shooting opportunity from any distance. At right wing is Bobby Decordova-Reid of Fulham, a two-way player who puts in hard work to reclaim possession. The 30-year-old has a knack for big, flashy moments and an intelligent sense of positioning, looking to crash the net for all rebounds.
The questions are what role will Demarai Gray play in the squad and how soon will he start? The 26-year-old Everton winger recently made the switch to Jamaica, telling The Athletic that the call-up to the Gold Cup is “perfect timing,” relishing the opportunity to “dig into [his] culture” and “encourage [his] children to learn about their heritage.” He thrives in isolation and open space, using his “unpredictability and guile” to “wreak havoc” on the opponent. Total Football Analysis praises his ability to “cross with either foot and from either flank,” also describing him as “a dribbler of the highest standard.”
Jamaica has multiple options at striker who can provide a variety of tactical looks. Expect Shamar Nicholson of Spartak Moscow to shoulder the scoring burden. The 6’4” target player can convert in a variety of ways, whether challenging defenders for headers or launching a long-distance shot. The front-line pairing could be completed by West Ham’s Michail Antonio, a relatively recent addition to the program who found the back of the net three times during World Cup qualifying. The 33-year-old is “exceptional in the air” and “ghosts into the box with late runs.”
While early in Hallgrímsson’s tenure, this match should provide a view into whether Jamaica will challenge for one of CONCACAF’s spots in the 2026 World Cup. There are always questions as to whether the newly-minted big-name roster additions will coalesce, as the hypothetical ceiling on their combined talent level has gone unmet for the past few years. The USMNT should have the advantage, but the Reggae Boyz are experienced and appear to be moving into the right direction, possessing the potential to be a truly terrifying force if “on paper” can translate into “reality.”
The match is scheduled for Saturday, June 24th at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, 6:30 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include Fox Sports 1, TUDN, Univision, and FUBO TV (free trial).