Rampant US prove too hot to handle in semi-final showdown
Jamaica’s dream of making it a hat-trick of successive Gold Cup finals came crashing down with a 3-1 reversal to a slick United States on Wednesday.
The Reggae Boyz played second fiddle throughout the largely one-sided affair, and never appeared capable of emulating last month’s shock success over the US.
The cauldron of the Nissan Stadium in Nashville left the Boyz dumbfounded and clue in the initial stages, but an enforced weather break was a changing moment as Jamaica came back fighting.
Shamar Nicholson, who notched the lone goal against the US in their recent pre-Gold Cup friendly, was back on the scoresheeet just four minutes after appearing as a substitute. And his goal must have come as a relief for the 22-year-old following his recent bucketload of missed opportunities in the competition.
Weston McKennie made a long overdue ninth-minute breakthrough for the US, and Chelsea’s dynamic Christian Pulisic bagged a second-half brace off rebounds to blow away the Boyz.
The contest was billed as the physical Boyz against the high possession play and pin-point passing of the US. It was the US who came out buzzing and hustling Jamaica to instill the fear factor from kick-off.
The US raced out of the traps with aplomb. Joey Altidore came close to converting Pulisic’s cross from the left in the opening 60 seconds, only to see his effort deflected off the far post.
Keeper Andre Blake had to be alert and fully spread himself three minutes later to prevent D.C. United star Paul Arriola from scoring at point-blank range after the Jamaican defence – missing Damion Lowe after his second yellow card – were caught sleeping.
The US dented Jamaica’s dreams when the industrious Altidore exquisitely set up the on-rushing McKennie in the box. Blake was given no chance as the Schalke 04 midfielder drilled the ball into the gaping goalmouth with a perfect finish for his second strike in as many games.
With the US totally dominating matters, the Boyz were given a great escape from not coping with the high-paced pressure. The teams were led off the pitch due to a band of lightning in the Tennessee area, which delayed their Gold Cup semi-final showdown for 88 minutes.
Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore had a chance to regroup his troops, who were fading fast despite having played just 16 minutes, and avert the potential crisis of continuing their toothless display.
The Boyz showed bottle for a battle when play resumed, putting their initial slumbering start behind them.
Leon Bailey, the much-lauded midfield maestro, started showing glimpses of why he is considered one of the world’s most talented rising stars.
He expertly timed his run for a ball over the top of the US defence, only to scuff his shot from a left-sided angle to hand Zack Steffen a simple save.
With renewed confidence the Boyz stopped being timid and went out all guns blazing in the opening half. Darren Mattocks fired his ambitious 18-yarder over the target and Junior Flemmings’ long-range piledriver required Steffen’s acrobatic save to prevent an equaliser.
The US were prepared for oozes and bruises in the combative second half, and were rewarded for their endeavours on 52 minutes.
Jordan Morris skipped his way down the right and then tested skipper Blake from an angle. His thumping effort was parried perfectly into the path of Pulisic, who made no mistake by turning the rebound into an empty net.
With the contest seemingly over the US swapped the outstanding Altidore, assumingly saving his legs for Sunday’s final against Mexico, for the athletic Gysai Zardes. But the substitute squandered his chance to make an instant impact by screwing his close-range effort wide of the target.
That miss appeared costly when the reigning champions US conceded their first goal of the tournament.
Jamaica substitute Nicholson showed Zardes his finishing prowess, leaping like a salmon to head home Bailey’s cross from the right, and give the Boyz a chance to claw their way back with 21 minutes remaining.
But the tie petered out into a midfield battle without the earlier spirited performance from either side.
Surprisingly, Whitmore rejigged his 4-4-1-1 formation on 83 minutes, hauling off striker Mattocks and Peter-Lee Vassell in a typical no.10 role, by bringing on Brian Brown and Devon ‘Speedy’ Lewis respectively for one last throw of the dice.
Whitmore’s plan soon backfired as Jamaica’s stubborn rearguard succumbed on 87 minutes, when the US restored their two-goal cushion.
Pulisic pounced on the rebound from Blake’s parried save to confirm the US will defend their Gold Cup title, which they picked up two years by defeating Jamaica in the final.
For the Boyz their only Gold Cup victory over the US remains the semi-final success racked up under ex-head coach Winifried Schäfer.
Whitmore’s Gold Cup dreams have once more been shattered by the US, although he can take numerous positives away from the competition despite his Boyz being largely outclassed by the US.
Whitmore will have plenty of time to reassess his squad before hos Boyz tackle Antigua & Barbuda in the CONCACAF Nations League on September 6.
JAMAICA: Blake; Powell, Hector, Francis, Lawrence; Williams, Watson, Flemmings (Nicholson, 65), Bailey; Vassell (Lewis, 83); Mattocks (Brown, 83), Subs: Topey, Foster, Morris, Miller, Orgill, Magee, Lambert, Williams, Knight.
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