A tournament that began with the surreal subversions of Florent Maloudaended in predictable fashion as the hosts won their sixth Gold Cup
A tournament that began with the surreal subversions of Florent Malouda
ended in much more predictable fashion as the favourites and hosts won their sixth Concacaf Gold Cup in California on Wednesday night.
The US needed a late winner from Jordan Morris to beat Jamaica – an outcome that was merited on the balance of play but still felt cruel on the underdogs, who defended with courage and conviction and played most of the match without their captain and best player.
The Americans had ample possession but plenty of frustration as a careless defensive moment early in the second-half squandered the breakthrough of Jozy Altidores spectacular goal near the end of the first.
While any final is by definition a special occasion, this match took on the tenor of a typical night for the US whenever they meet a smaller nation in Concacaf play: the requirement to unlock obdurate opponents who mainly pose a danger on the counter-attack.
The goal felt like a significant moment in Morris young career, and the win a general confidence-booster that continues the positive mood under the management of Bruce Arena, now unbeaten in 14 matches in his second spell in charge of the US.
Morris was at fault for Jamaicas goal. I was trying to make up for it any way I could, the Seattle Sounders striker told Fox Sports.
Distraught by the manner of defeat, Jamaica should still feel proud at their unexpectedly strong showing in this competition. They did not even reach the final Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying, finishing bottom of a fourth-round group featuring Costa Rica, Panama and Haiti.
They got to Santa Clara by eliminating a greatly under-strength Mexico in the semi-finals on Sunday courtesy of a bulbous 88th-minute free kick by Kemar Lawrence. It was a dose of payback for the 2015 Gold Cup final, which Mexico won 3-1. Jamaica reached that showpiece with a 2-1 win over the US in the semi-finals which raised the decibel levels of the Klinsmann out calls.
Often under pressure on Wednesday, they looked well-drilled under coach Theodore Whitmore, the former Hull City midfielder, who has set them up to prioritise collective solidity. He has shuffled the pack since he returned to take charge in 2016 and jettisoned some veteran England-born players: Lawrence and Je-Vaughn Watson were the only two players to start the 2015 final and this one.
The contest unspooled in a less-than-full Levis Stadium on the same night that more than 80,000 watched Barcelona face Manchester United in a pre-season friendly on the east coast – figures that reflect reverence for European giants but also indicate the modest appeal of a tournament with limited star power that takes place in the same country every two years.
Good results have allowed Arena to experiment without being depicted as a mad scientist. The US looked tepid in the group phase but Arena used the Gold Cups preposterous roster rules to bring in six fresh players for the knock-out stage, a power-up that made a crucial difference in this match when they eliminated the nipple-twisters of El Salvadorin the quarter-finals and a resilient Costa Rica in the last four.
It was a sign that learning was now secondary to winning. For all that the tournament was a chance for Arena to assess young fringe players, it may have been most meaningful in cementing an idea of how best to deploy a 34-year-old with more than 137 caps in Russia next summer.
Clint Dempsey, who came off the bench against Costa Rica and tied Landon Donovans US all-time goalscoring record, was again a substitute. And the US again looked most dangerous after he came on. For the first time since taking charge last year, Arena named an unchanged line-up from the previous game, meaning Altidore and Morris in attack.
Jamaicas clean sheet against Mexico owed much to the shot-stopping prowess of their goalkeeper and one of the best players of the tournament, Andre Blake, who plays his club soccer for the Philadelphia Union.
So the Caribbean side endured a serious setback in the 19th minute after Altidore unleashed a fierce swerving drive that Blake saved with aplomb. He appeared to suffer an injury to his right hand as he denied Kellyn Acosta on the rebound and could not continue. Jamaica brought on their 30-year-old back-up, Dwayne Miller.
Altidore scored the opening goal just before the break with a dipping free kick that Miller seemed to touch faintly with his fingertips. For all the excellence of the strike from one of Arenas mid-tournament additions, it was tempting to wonder if Blake would have saved it.
A pacy 38th-minute run from Darren Mattocks that won a corner indicated Jamaicas potential on the counter attack, but they failed to muster so much as a shot during the first half.
The question of how a team that appeared set up with a view to sneaking a 1-0 victory or winning a penalty shoot-out would handle going behind was answered swiftly; Jamaicas first shot was a good one.
The second half was less than five minutes old when Watson, a sparingly-used midfielder at the New England Revolution, evaded Morriss hapless marking and connected with a corner to prod the ball past Tim Howard from five yards.
Arena responded within five minutes by introducing Dempsey for Acosta and the Americans pressed hard for a second goal. Omar Gonzalez headed a Michael Bradley corner narrowly wide with 20 minutes to go, then Miller saved from Morris. With 15 minutes left, Dempsey almost repeated his magic but Miller pushed his header on to a post.
With five minutes left, Dempsey almost got lucky when his badly mishit free kick caused mayhem in the Jamaican ranks and nearly turned into the perfect close-range chance for Matt Besler, but for an intervention from the increasingly heroic Miller.
Morris, though, would grab the glory with two minutes left, seizing on a loose ball to fire a shot into the corner of the net from just inside the area.
The US next face Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying at Red Bull Arena on 1 September, with a trip to Honduras four days later.We knew it wasnt going to come easy. [Jamaica have] had a very good tournament, Bradley told Fox Sports.This was about a group of guys winning a trophy and thats been the only goal. Were going to enjoy it and tomorrow and the next few days were going to start to refocus.