The United States advanced to its 11th-ever Gold Cup final with a 3-1 victory over Jamaica Wednesday night in Nashville. Midfielder Weston McKennie struck lightning in the 9th minute to give the Americans the lead, and then actual bolts started flashing.
Officials called for a severe weather delay in the 16th minute. The match started at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, but didn’t resume until 11:20 p.m. After the Reggae Boyz asserted themselves out the break, Christian Pulisic responded in the second half with a goal off a rebound for the 2-0 advantage.
Shamar Nicholson answered with Jamaica’s only tally in the 69th-minute. Pulisic answered with another goal off of a rebound for the final margin.
The result sets up a Gold Cup final tilt against rival Mexico. This will be the 6th-ever meeting in the final between the North American neighbors, with El Tri holding a 4-1 record in those matchups.
According to MLS Soccer, the two programs will face off on Sunday, July 7 at 9:15 p.m. Eastern time on FS1 and Univision. The Americans’ only victory over Mexico in a Gold Cup final came in Soldier Field back in 2007, where Sunday’s match will be held.
Mexico qualified for the final with a 1-0 squeaker over Haiti. Let’s see how they and the USMNT both punched their tickets to Chicago.
Mexico’s Path to the Gold Cup Final
El Tri head coach Tata Martino entered the Gold Cup with some new faces to the roster. In particular, he added Uriel Antuna at the last second, which turned out to be an excellent choice.
Antuna notched a hat trick in the opening 7-0 rout over Cuba. He scored one more in the 3-2 triumph over Martinique in the Group Stage finale. Sandwiched in between, Mexico controlled nearly 70 percent of possession in a 3-1 win over Canada.
Things started to tighten up in the elimination rounds. First, Mexico edged Costa Rica on penalty kicks after entering extra time locked up at 1-1. It wasn’t until Carlos Salcedo converted on his and Costa Rica’s Keysher Fuller was denied that El Tri could breathe easy again.
Next, the 18th-ranked Mexicans faced a stiffer test than expected from the 101st-ranked Haitians. El Tri was unable to crack the defense until a controversial penalty kicked allowed Raul Jimenez to provide the winning goal. Per ESPN:
In the end, the result came down to one penalty call in the second minute of extra time. Jimenez beat Haiti’s Herve Bazile to a challenge and collapsed to the ground hugging the ball. The contact from the Haiti player was minimal, but did exist and Qatari referee Abdulrahman A l Jassim pointed to the spot.
In short, Mexico rampaged through group play, but only managed two goals since the elimination rounds started.
The USMNT’s Path to the Gold Cup Final
The path for the United States played out somewhat similarly. After crushing Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago by a combined score of 10-0, the Americans barely edged Panama and Curacao by identical 1-0 margins.
In fairness, the Panama match was an experimental lineup in a meaningless game, as both teams had already qualified for the knockout rounds. However, Curacao was a sloppy effort with a full complement of starters that saw the 79th-ranked island nation control possession by a 53-47 cushion.
It took a McKennie goal in the 25th-minute and stingy defense to advance to the semifinals. Against Jamaica, the USMNT came out firing on offense, recording four shots on goal in the first 16 minutes. The goal allowed ended up being the defense’s first of the entire tournament.
For a roster that has an average age of 25 and a half, Gregg Berhalter’s squad played mature, disciplined defense over five matches, while the offense found just enough of a higher gear.
While history is against the United States against its southern rivals, this young team is beaming with confidence. In a stadium with past success and momentum on their side, Sunday could be the start of a new foundational era for USA Soccer.