One final test stands between the U.S. Men’s National Team and a Gold Cup trophy. It’s not the test that many expected, but it is one that will challenge the USMNT throughout Wednesday’s finale.
After toppling Costa Rica in Saturday’s semifinal, the USMNT faces another familiar foe in Wednesday’s final: Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz stunned Mexico on a last-gasp free kick in their own semifinal match, booking their second consecutive Gold Cup final appearance. In the 2015 tournament, Jamaica fell to El Tri in the finale, but they did top the U.S. to get there.
Now, the U.S. has a chance for a bit of revenge, but that’s far from the focus of Wednesday’s match. The team remains unbeaten through 13 games of Bruce Arena’s tenure, and one more win will earn them a second Gold Cup crown in three tournaments.
Arena will face some tough decisions along the way as he looks to rotate and match a lineup to take on a dangerous Jamaica team. Here’s one possible way the USMNT can lineup on Wednesday night:
Wednesday’s Gold Cup final is a balancing act for Bruce Arena. Facing a fourth game in 11 days, he has to ask himself which players are physically ready to take the field for what will certainly be a taxing match against Jamaica. He then needs to weigh his options. Is it better to go with fresh legs or experience?
The good news? The USMNT does have an extra day of rest on Jamaica, who needed a late free kick to topple Mexico on Sunday evening. The USMNT’s clash with Costa Rica was physical, sure, but that extra day to recover certainly doesn’t hurt.
With all of that in mind, there are several virtual guarantees. Michael Bradley should be penciled in along with Tim Howard. Jozy Altidore is likely to be involved as well. Kellyn Acosta and Darlington Nagbe are also definite favorites to start as the two of them have proven vital to establishing midfield dominance throughout the recent run.
The biggest question is how Arena manages defense. The back four of Jorge Villafana, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi put together the USMNT’s best defensive performance of the tournament last time out against what might have been the most dangerous attack the team had faced. The unit is certainly first choice among this group and, on four days rest, all four could certainly be ready to go on Wednesday night.
Wingers are a bit more questionable. Nagbe could certainly start on the left, which is likely his best position, but the right midfield spot is an interesting one. Paul Arriola was substituted early in the second half against Costa Rica despite putting on a lively and energetic performance. Gyasi Zardes is another option to play out wide and his energy and speed could make an impact against a suddenly-solid Jamaica back four.
There’s little doubt that Clint Dempsey will have a part to play at forward, but the question is where that part begins? He’s certainly a starting option after playing only the later portion of Saturday’s match, but it’s hard to look past the impact a substitute appearance made against tired legs. Arena could bet on the same thing happening against a potentially-worn down Jamaica team, but he could also throw Dempsey in from the get-go in an effort to establish something early.
Of the two teams, the USMNT has fresher legs due to the time off and the overall squad rotation, and look for Arena to use that to the USMNT’s advantage in Wednesday’s final.