The United States defeated Jamaica 2-1 to win the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup in Santa Clara on Wednesday. The triumphant culmination of over 35 days on the road took shape thanks to goals from Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris in concert with a collective team effort against a formidable Reggae Boyz side. The match was not without extra heartbreak for Jamaica, however, as rising star goalkeeper Andre Blake left in the 23rd minute as a result of a hand injury suffered while saving Kellyn Acosta’s shot on goal.
The United States dominated both possession and shots on goal in the first half, but Jamaica, particularly on defense, kept the match even until Altidore drilled the top left corner of the net off of a free kick to give the Yanks the lead in the 45th minute. Leading up to Altidore’s second goal in two matches, the United States struggled to move the ball beyond the defensive third and saw questionable decision-making from center back Matt Besler when challenged. The early deficiencies of Besler were mitigated by the veteran play of captain Michael Bradley, winner of the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, as he routinely positioned himself deep in hopes of building an attack for the U.S. and to shield the back line.
Bradley was just one of Bruce Arena’s many players – veteran and novice alike – that elevated their play on a grand stage Wednesday evening even if it meant first overcoming adversity.
The start of the second half quickly gave way to an equalizer by the Reggae Boyz when Je-Vaughn Watson scored in the 50th minute off a corner from Kemar Lawrence – the hero in Sunday night’s affair against Mexico. Watson took advantage of being left wide open by Jordan Morris near the back post and easily knocked in Lawrence’s offering to give Jamaica its lone goal of the evening. Morris, acutely aware of his mistake, would find redemption late in the match when a Gyasi Zardes-cross allowed Clint Dempsey to set up his fellow Seattle Sounder for the game-winning goal 120 seconds before stoppage time.
The mental fortitude Morris demonstrated in the 38 minutes between allowing and scoring a goal was not lost on the young forward when he spoke with TYAC after the match – beset with a single speck of celebratory glitter still stuck in his champagne-soaked hair.
“Getting that goal was a huge relief,” said Morris, “I felt terrible and you never want to be the guy to let the team down. For me, it was just trying to come back and try to make an impact.”
Jordan Morris has the clutch gene!
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 27, 2017
Dempsey, coming off the bench as a super-sub a la Saturday’s match against Costa Rica, served as an immediate spark plug for the United States upon entering in the 55th minute for Kellyn Acosta. His arrival helped foster a cohesiveness to the offense that was sorely lacking in the first half and led to the creation of more viable chances on goal for the Yanks. There’s no guaranteeing Dempsey will continue to thrive in his new role – a particularly lackluster free kick Wednesday night aside – but it’s encouraging to see the star forward approach his limited minutes on the pitch with a positive mindset.
“I thought everybody did a great job. Everybody played their part. Everybody helped this team. It was a great team effort and we got the win,” said Dempsey. “Happy about that and now there’s a lot more competition for spots. Moving into World Cup qualifying, we need to get the job done.”
Left back Jorge Villafaña entered the match looking to capitalize on the opportunity to prove himself worthy of a starting spot in Russia at the position. The Santos Laguna defender worked well in tandem with an ever-impressive Darlington Nagbe – who was masterful one-on-one – and was effective in trying to get anything going offensively with his crosses. Arena, while praising the play of Villafaña, was not quite ready to anoint the 27 year old as heir apparent to left back mainstay DaMarcus Beasley.
“We’re still a long way from qualifying and I need to continue to evaluate our roster heading into September,” said Arena. “To put younger players in the fire tonight was good and they walked away with passing grades, which is encouraging.”
The flood of emotion in the wake of a championship victory may forgive the sins of many, but it’s important to note that this was not a perfect win by the United States nor did every player deliver an exemplary performance.
And that’s OK.
Graham Zusi, Kellyn Acosta, and Paul Arriola would probably like a re-do on some of the more forgettable moments Wednesday evening, but what we’ve learned over the course of the Gold Cup is that Arena has a deep player pool with a positive trajectory looking ahead to Russia.
— SBI Soccer (@SBISoccer) July 27, 2017
The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Andre Blake’s injury clouded what was an otherwise marvelous run for Theodore Whitmore’s squad during the Gold Cup. The goalkeeper spoke with TYAC after the match and revealed that his hand is badly cut – not broken – but did receive several stitches that will be removed after 10 days and then be evaluated day-to-day. What could have been a far worse outcome for Blake helps maintain a sense of optimism for Jamaica moving forward thanks to a flourishing roster with just the right mix of veteran players abroad and a youth movement taking place domestically. Blake, for his efforts as the tournament’s top goalie, was awarded the Golden Glove after allowing only two goals in the six Gold Cup matches he started in net for the Reggae Boyz.
“The players did their country proud,” said Whitmore. “The future is bright for Jamaica football. The ultimate goal is to see our players continue to venture to MLS and Europe.”
Just over a month separates the United States from the next World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica on September 1. The interim will usher in the return for many to the second half slog of MLS play while others commence their seasons abroad. Undefeated since his return to the steed last fall, the ballad of Bruce Arena 2.0 – tempered by self-awareness and humility – will continue to reshape the narrative of U.S. Soccer come Labor Day weekend.
Meet the new Bruce. Not the same as the old Bruce.