Like we all expected, the USA heads into the Gold Cup final for a rematch against a team that caused it a stunning setback in the not-so-distant past.
No, not that one.
Yes, the Reggae Boyz–and not Mexico–are back in the Gold Cup final for a second straight competition after their stunning, late win over El Tri Sunday night at the Rose Bowl, where a pro-Mexico crowd watched New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence break their hearts with his 88th-minute winner and Andre Blake put on another clinic in goal.
Jamaica's semifinal win over the United States in 2015 was one of the more shocking defeats in the Jurgen Klinsmann era, and it sent the USA tail-spinning into a third-place game it clearly didn't want to play. Jamaica, which capitalized on U.S. errors, was a deserving winner of that semifinal, though, and is a deserving finalist again after beating Canada and El Tri in the knockout stage. Just because Mexico is not in the final, it doesn't mean the Americans can start printing their title-winning T-shirts just yet.
The USA-Jamaica matchup means quite a few things:
- It will be at least an eight-year wait for a Gold Cup final between the USA and Mexico (the CONCACAF Cup playoff between the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup winners notwithstanding). Considering the two nations have dominated the Gold Cup since its inception, that's a staggering amount of time since the two will have actually fought for the trophy. Sorry, CONCACAF. Your dream matchup is deferred again.
- Apparent supersub Clint Dempsey can set the all-time U.S. men's goal record in the final, which would be enough of a storybook tale, but it won't come against El Tri. Sorry, soccer romantics. It's not like you wouldn't accept Dempsey celebrating with another duck face against Jamaica, though.
- Extra time is back in play. Per Gold Cup competition rules, we didn't get a straight-to-PKs match in the quarterfinals or semifinals (though Jamaica and Mexico were close), and the final will go to an added 30 minutes if tied after 90. In that added time, managers are permitted a fourth substitute, so there's an added element of tactical strategy to the title match. If it does go to finals, we'll be left with Blake vs. Tim Howard for the title. Who would be disappointed with that?
- The Americans have an extra day of rest due to the scheduling of the semifinals. Given the tight timeline of the knockout stage, that is not an insignificant factor.
- Arena has shown a propensity to shift–and on a couple of occasions, completely change–his lineup, but the XI you saw against Costa Rica is going to be largely what you should expect to see again on Wednesday night. Perhaps Eric Lichaj, who is a bit more fleet of foot, deputizes for Graham Zusi at right back, but the Omar Gonzalez-Matt Besler center back pairing has been the best of the bunch, Jorge Villafaña appears locked in at left back, Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris complement each other well, Darlington Nagbe should continue to gain opportunities in a Michael Bradley-Kellyn Acosta-driven midfield and Dempsey off the bench is a weapon Arena can continue to cultivate leading into next summer in Russia (qualification-pending). There's not much tweaking necessary.
- For Mexico, which brought a younger, second-choice team to the competition after the Confederations Cup and was without suspended manager Juan Carlos Osorio on the sidelines, is it really all that shocking it didn't reach the final? It certainly shouldn't have any impact on Osorio's job security. This was a learning experience for this edition of El Tri, and while a place in the final was the minimum expectation entering the competition, this Gold Cup, as we've seen, means different things to different nations. Mexico, which still comfortably tops the Hex, will be fine.
- A non-North American team can actually, finally win the Gold Cup! Underestimate Jamaica at your own peril. There's nothing too sensational about these Reggae Boyz, but the combination of a well-coached team, stingy defense (two goals conceded all tournament), an incredible goalkeeper (Blake is truly special) and capable, goal-scoring forwards (Darren Mattocks, Romario Williams) can get the job done on the night.
- Despite all of the hesitations, reservations and potential hiccups, there is no denying the Americans are the favorite to win this thing. The USA, 14-2-9 all-time against Jamaica, should win a match–friendly or competitive–on U.S. soil against a Caribbean opponent. It should win a match in which it is vastly superior on paper thanks to the roster additions of veterans Howard, Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore and Nagbe. It should win a match it enters after having played its best game of the tournament against its toughest foe to date.
- But that's why they play the game. An intriguing 90 (or 120!) minutes await in Santa Clara.