As the hosts and the higher ranked side, the United States entered the game as firm favorites. With 10 Gold Cup Finals appearances, 5 cup victories, and only 2 losses all time to Jamaica, they looked the part. However, the two teams’ last Gold Cup encounter was a stunning 2-1 win for Jamaica in the 2015 semi-finals. (That was the loss that ended a 12-year run of finals appearances for the Americans and begat fevered debate over the merits of then coach Jurgen Klinsmann.)
US coach Bruce Arena chose to repeat the same starting lineup as in the team’s 2-0 victory over Costa Rica.
This is it! We want the cup! Meet your starting XI for the #GoldCup2017 Final.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) July 27, 2017
Coach Theodore Whitmore lined up the Reggae Boyz with one switch from the team that topped Mexico, bringing on preferred left wing Oniel Fisher in place of Shaun Francis. The team had only allowed two goals throughout the entire cup, due to a team the Jamaica Observer called “dogged, if not fluent.”
The United States looked to apply pressure from the start. Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola took the lead in rushing down the sidelines to knock the ball in to dangerous positions. However, the emphasis on quick rather than quality crosses did not support great chances or trouble Jamaica’s central defenders. (Note: Minnesotans past and present: Damion Lowe and Jermaine Taylor.)
When they were able to move forward, the Reggae Boyz did not do much to pressure American keeper Tim Howard. However, they did bring a physical presence to limit direct buildups out of the midfield and force the Americans to remain wide.
Perhaps the most influential moment of the match came in the 19th minute when Jozy Altidore’s shot from distance knuckled away to Andre Blake’s left. The Jamaica number one blocked it, but Kellyn Acosta’s attempt on the rebound resulted in a firm kick to Blake’s right hand. The keeper and captain was in obvious pain and seemed to be bleeding heavily from a finger. Ultimately he was removed from the match for backup Dwayne Miller. Blake’s superb performances throughout the cup had kept Jamaica in every match. His departure at this early stage changed the strategic complexion of the match.
Jamaica responded to their captain’s departure by stepping up offensively. They pushed the advantage where they could find it, but still struggled to link passes. Their best opportunity of the half came in the 37th minute when Darren Mattocks made an incisive run before being dispossessed around the six-yard box.
The United States found greater success near the end of the first half. Their continued dominance of the wings allowed them to switch from lobbed crosses to lower, more direct balls in. The Jamaican defense and American attacks found a bit more drama in these scrambles but no goals.
The Americans finally got the opening goal in the 45th minute. Jozy Altidore’s free kick had just enough curve out of the sun and over Miller’s hand to make it 1-0 heading into half time.
Jamaica claimed the advantage at the start of the second half. Early pressure gave them just their second corner kick of the match. Kemar Lawrence aimed for the back post. Once there, it only took one shake for Je-Vaughn Watson to slip past Jordan Morris and side volley the ball past Tim Howard.
Having landed their best punch at an opportunistic time, Jamaica seemed to flag. Short one substitution and without much squad rotation, the winded defenders looked it.
Finally the winner came in the 88th minute. An overzealous cross by Gyasi Zardes out paced American attackers. But Jermaine Taylor could not come up with a firm clearance. A few bounces later, Jordan Morris lashed the ball past Lowe, Miller, and finally Taylor on the goal line. With that goal, it was all over but the crying and the USA kept the cup at home.
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