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USMNT 2, Jamaica 1: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

When the Gold Cup began, the focus was on learning. Bruce Arena wanted to learn what the U.S. Men’s National Team was made of, from the youngest of newcomers to the team’s World Cup veterans. He needed to learn who he could count on in the coming year with the World Cup looming.

The tournament provided plenty of lessons and plenty of takeaways, and Wednesday’s finale was no different.

It took an 88th minute winner for the USMNT to overcome Jamaica, winning the program’s sixth Gold Cup crown via a 2-1 victory over a familiar foe. It wasn’t a straight-forward ride but, then again, the Gold Cup has been far from a straight-forward tournament.

With that said, here’s a look at the takeaways from Wednesday’s finale:


Jordan Morris has shown a knack for winning since he burst onto the scene as a Stanford star. He won a College Cup, he won an MLS Cup and now, he’s won a Gold Cup. At just 22 years old, Morris already has a heck of a resume.

His goal on Wednesday was far from a moment of pure brilliance. It was a goal worthy of a title-winner. It bounced around in the box and fell to his feet as instinct took over. He simply smashed it and, as it hit the back of the net, the USMNT was all but guaranteed a Gold Cup trophy.

Morris, by all accounts, had a heck of a game. He created several chances. He made dangerous runs and generally challenged a resolute Jamaica defense. He had a momentary lapse on the Jamaica goal, obviously, and it was admittedly pretty bad, but he didn’t let it define his game.

Heading into the Gold Cup, Morris’ spot was very much in question with someone like Dom Dwyer on the rise. That’s all well and good, and Dwyer certainly boosted his stock but, right now, a World Cup spot is Morris’ to lose.


If you’re still one of the people that continues to criticize Jozy Altidore, it’s time to rethink. For years, Altidore has been a target of criticism regarding what he isn’t good at, but it’s high time to admit that he’s pretty damn good at doing what it takes to be the USMNT’s No. 9.

After scoring the eventual game-winner in the semifinals, Altidore followed it up with a ridiculous free kick goal to close the first half of Wednesday’s final. The veteran forward pulled rank to keep Kellyn Acosta away, and he responded by smashing home a missile of a free kick to get the scoring started.

His game was about so much more than that, though. He held the ball well, dropping deep into the midfield to help open up gaps for the rest of the USMNT. He was the hub of the USMNT attack one, which, despite the scoreline, attacked in waves throughout the match. He did the dirty work and provided the beautiful goal. What else could you ask for?


With the match wearing on and the USMNT tied with Jamaica, it was easy to see where the goal was coming from. As time dwindled, you could see the USMNT’s veterans stepping up.

Michael Bradley, who may or may not have deserved the Golden Ball when all was said and done, continued to drive the USMNT midfield. Clint Dempsey was fresh from another substitute appearance as he buzzed in and around the Jamaica box. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler drove the defense forward. Altidore helped spur on the attack by dropping deep and helping connect attack and midfield.

When needed, the USMNT’s World Cup veterans stepped up and led the way. The mentality never changed after Jamaica’s goal and heads never dropped. Rather, the U.S. pushed harder with a squad of familiar faces leading the way.


Yes, it required an 88th minute winner and, yes, the scoreboard shows that Wednesday’s match was a tight one. However, the USMNT’s performance in the Gold Cup finale was nothing short of dominant, even if the result doesn’t indicate that fact.

From the opening whistle, it was easy to see that the U.S. was the better team and would be the better team throughout the 90 minutes. The chances didn’t come right away, no, but, given the wealth of possession, you knew they would. When one team has that much of the ball, it’s simply a matter of time, and it was before Altidore’s free kick goal.

To Jamaica’s credit, the Reggae Boyz fought, and hard. Andre Blake’s injury could have and probably should have completely derailed Jamaica’s efforts, but replacement Dwayne Miller put in an incredible performance of his own. The corner kick goal was Jamaica’s first shot, and credit to them for taking their chance but, from that point forward, it was hard to see the team’s vicious counter attack getting much of anything going.

When all was said and done, the U.S. had a whopping 74 percent possession and generated eight shots on target. A stingy Jamaica team kept it close, but there’s little room to deny the fact that the U.S. was once again a force on Wednesday night.


Bruce Arena had some decisions to make ahead of Wednesday’s final. After playing what was essentially his first team lineup in the semifinal, the USMNT’s Gold Cup final lineup remained a question mark. Would he make changes for fresh legs? Would Clint Dempsey return to the lineup after a star performance?

In the end, he opted to keep the same XI that took down Costa Rica in the final, and it worked.

Arena opted to leave Dempsey on the bench once again, utilizing him as a super sub. When Dempsey did get into the fray, he provided plenty of creativity to the USMNT attack and was just inches away from breaking Landon Donovan’s goalscoring record. His shot off the bar was unfortunate, but his performance against a tired Jamaica team certainly wasn’t.

Gyasi Zardes, for all of his faults, helped create the match’s pivotal moment. Did he waste chances? Yes. Did he hit several crosses that could, at best, be described as hopeful and, at worst, be described as useless? Yes. But Zardes changed the pace of the game down the wing and helped kickstart the sequence that led to Morris’ goal.

Bruce Arena pulled the right strings throughout the Gold Cup, from his initial selections to knockout additions to final lineup. It’s now 14 games unbeaten, and Arena deserved every bit of credit he’s getting.


  1. I like nagbe but not sure what his best position is. Keeps control very well and a quick burst but sometimes he’s seems to dribble himself out of the attack and holds the ball to long and has nowhere to go. It could be that there is no off the ball movement which wouldn’t be a surprise because it seems very few from this tournament really do anything except kick it long and run after it. Not saying he’s old but at his age this is probably what your going to get from him and I’m not saying that in a bad way. Wouldn’t mind seeing him above MB and a little below CP in a 5 man midfield.

    • Like so many of our players, he is lacking in areas. I see him as a niche player. If the other team is pressing and you want to get the ball from your half of the field to their half of the field, he’s probably the best we have for that. I, too, have pointed out that his game breaks down when he gets close to the opponent’s box. Perhaps it is because he tries to do too much by himself.

      • If only soccer was scored like gymnastics, with judges scoring on creativity and technical merit. Unfortunately soccer is based on putting the ball in the back of the net. People claim Nagbe just needs to adjust to the squad but he’s never put up big numbers in MLS. He’s a starter, but not a difference maker against WC caliber competition. Wish his move to Celtic had happened perhaps he would have learned to be more decisive.

      • Nagbe isn’t going to score many goals or even get many assists, but he is still extremely valuable to have on our team and dare I say starting squad.

        He is not only arguably our best player at keeping the ball, but also at breaking through that midfield line on the dribble. He’s not very creative when it comes to unlocking the defense after that, but you can rarely accuse him of making bad decisions with ball. He has burst. He cuts inside and get’s his fullback involved in the offense. He’s a good team defender.

        Honestly he’s one of my favorites.


        Or is FabJo our LB?

      • Amphib don’t misunderstand me, I like Nagbe too, I would just like him to get the ball off his feet two touches sooner. Look at Pulisic and Johnson that you mentioned both do exactly what Nagbe does, but they also are looking to score.

  2. A- side LOL !!! Come on, It was more like between a B and B+ side, 3,3 out of 4. Some of the reinforcements that were called up to help are not even starters.Great job USA!!

  3. So what basically amounts to our A/A- team is able to narrowly beat El Salvador, Costa Rica’s B-/C team, and Jamaica. Amazing. Two of those teams didn’t even make the Hex.

    The happiness around this tournament and the team’s performance is perplexing to me. Thoughts –

    1. Nobody from the backups/young guys really stepped up to snag a spot, leading us to continue relying on our old guys who have proven they aren’t up for bigger teams. Only ones who could have done it were Miazga, Rowe, and Dwyer, who were all sent home or not played.
    2. Nagbe is the only player who really stood out, even with his difficulties with the final ball.
    3. This A- team has effectively nobody to create chances. The goals were scored on set pieces, by defenders, and one from Jordan Morris on a scrappy put-away. How are we not peppering the goals of these significantly inferior squads?
    4. I’m not a big MB guy at this point in his career, but he did play well. My only problem is his “playing well” consists of a deep lying #6 role against awful teams. If he plays like that against better Euro/SA squads, great, we need it. But to use what is effectively a fifth defender against Jamaica? One assist on a free kick in 3 games, rarely moving past midfield? From the golden ball winner?
    5. Don’t get Arena’s approach. Trying to figure out who can add to the team with the WC a year away, and he doesn’t play anyone who might have that potential, and uses nearly his best team. Was it him who simply wanted to win a tourney for goodwill from fans/media, or was this decision from the top? Not sure how this helps anything within the program.

    Guess winning is better than not, but I couldn’t really be less impressed. We learned absolutely nothing except our near full strength team is better than awful teams. great?

      • Picked a weird fact to argue out of everything written. #1 gk, Nagbe, MB, Altidore, Dempsey, Villafana are all automatic starters (unfortunately). And don’t give me “not Dempsey anymore” as he’s our best, most creative attacker outside CP.

        Gonzo, Besler, Zusi, and Morris are all actively involved in the team. The only near outsider was Arriola.

        If you don’t think that’s an A/A- team, I’m not sure what can be done for your mental health.

        Regardless, I’m sure you’ll come back with “that was a B+ team!!!”. OK, whatever. Fact is we brought more top players, by FAR, than any other team (at least remotely threatening team, ie. not Jamaica, El Salv).

    • I would say it was a C team that turned into a B+ at best for the knockouts.

      You should be happy when you win a trophy, regardless of how you got it… These tournaments are always chippy with results such as this. Sure we want to blow everyone out but thats not going to happen with new faces and rotating players.

      1. I don’t think those guys being sent home meant anything (Miazga wasn’t). Rowe, Miazga and Dwyer all at least did enough to keep their name in the hat. You could argue Arriola showed some potential for the same.

      2. Nagbe keeps the ball very close which is nice to see, with our full squad I see him making much more of an impact with the likes of a pulisic (who is clearly a cerebral player and creator). Finding the final pass was lacking I agree but that can be a combination of things, its not just on Nagbe.

      3. MB has always been a deep lying 6 even though JK tried to change that. The problem is he is by far the best we have no matter how much everyone complains about him, nobody is close to taking his spot.

      5. I think his approach was to do both. Mix and match the young players early in the tournament and then win the tournament. Had some of those fringe players early on shown they deserved to be on the field for a knockout game I imagine they would have.

      We learned a few players will probably be called in for qualifiers, still wouldn’t call it near full strength. Pulisic, Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Wood, Johnson would be more than half a letter upgrade.

    • Regarding Bradley, he actually acted like an advanced defender in a back 3 since Villafana and Zusi spent almost all their time closer than 35 yards from the Jamaican goal. When you looked at the formation over half the time it was two central backs with Bradley about 10 yards in front of them and the fullbacks well in advance of Bradley and often in front of the both Nagbe and Arriola.

      It is not sexy for a mid to sit deep and defuse counterattacks before they happen, but Bradley did that and made it look like it was simple.

      It was only when the US was pushing for a goal that Bradley ventured forward (drawing the foul Altidore scored on and did a good job of getting the ball wide to Zardes at the end).

    • I’ve got many of the same concerns here and the overly rosy view of the article is just wrong.

      We dominated possession, but did not create many chances for ourselves. Dempsey’s header/ Morris goal are the only ones I can even think of that weren’t a set piece or rebound. Our squad seriously lacks cutting edge.

      Morris fired home the winner, but was not all that good other than that. 4th striker spot is his to lose because hes decent, works hard and has great pace. I see a very good player in there but, not overly impressed still. He’s really bad w/ back to goal
      CM is still a major ? Acosta’s failure to step up is the biggest story of the tournament for me. What are our options now? Hope one of Williams or Hyndmann steps up? Turn to MLS past their bests JJ, Feilhaber or Kljestan?

      Arriola proved he can be a decent wing sub. He’s a busy little bee out there and very decisive when he gets on the ball. Crossing needs to improve, but I liked what he showed.
      Nagbe had a very good semi and final. His ability to carry the ball and dribble through the lines will be valuable. Pulisic is the only other player we have with that skill set.
      Bradley also very good semi and final. The search for a decent partner for him is becoming similar to our LB search. Never ending.
      Besler and Gonzo solidified their spots as backup lcb and rcb.
      Overall the tournament exposed our weaknesses and showed exactly where we need to improve. Not sure where the answers lie, but next 10 months will be an interesting battle.

      • Agree with most of this. Not sure where any of the optimism is coming from. Years ago it was “get points away from home in the Hex” against top 6 teams, and now it’s turned into success winning games while hardly dominating at home with a B+ team against vastly inferior opponents. We used to be expecting a good result against Mexico’s top squad, and now we’re amped that a squad consisting of 6-8 starters (and rest #2 backups a couple of which started last WCQ) can go toe to toe at home against Jamaica?

        What’s the reason we have fallen so far in expectations?

      • Swy19, so now it is a B+ team? The whole premise of your original post was that we had our A team. The only expectations are to win tournaments like this (we did). Qualify for the world cup (we will). Then get to the knockouts of the WC and see how far you can go (TBD, but I have faith).

      • I don’t want to be overly negative. We won the tournament so good job to the team.

        What did we learn about this team that makes anyone feel better than they did 3-4 weeks ago? I’d say Nagbe raised his stock, but hes the only player I am more excited about now than I was before the tournament.
        Villafana is an average LB and showed that. Acosta did not play well vs very weak competition. Morris, Dwyer, Agudelo all still have big holes in their game.
        What are we excited about???

      • You caught me!!! No, I just deferred to those (you) who misinterpret my points and want to argue whether it’s A/A- or B+ team, as that is irrelevant to me. 6 auto starters plus a few who just started in Azteca is not a B+ team to me, but again, I don’t care.

        I echo Ronaldinho…what did you learn? What did we gain? How did this advance the team and the program? We already know our A/A-/B+ team is much better than El Salv/Jamaica/and 3 starters of Costa Rica. Did we think they’d struggle to create chances in the run of play against said teams? I certainly didn’t.

        This tourney, especially the last 3 games, gave me a dimmer view of the team than a month ago.

      • I already answered that. No need to argue A-B, I’m not blind enough to think that was anything close to our best. The whole point of all your complaining was that it was basically our best team… newsflash, it wasn’t. Go back and ask yourself those questions considering we have a B team there and only for the knockouts. Group stages were a C team, use your noggin.

      • Not anything close to our best with 6 automatic starters and 2-4 others who started the last WCQ in Mexico? Ok…this is like talking to a brick wall, good day sir.

      • Let me ask you this. Of the field players last night which of them are starting in the first knockout game? Jozy (and possibly only if we play two strikers)
        Maybe villafana by default

        There ya go. Good day sir.

      • I think people are being overly hard on acosta. He had a good game against CR and it wasn’t like he was terrible in this game. Did he dominate the game? no but give Jamaica some credit as they were in the final for a reason.

        As far as takeaways mine are as follows: Gonzo and Besler are back ups, Zardes is athletic but has very little skill. Arriola has some promise but his end product has to get way better before he can contribute. Nagbe has a lot of skill but he is consistantly slow with the final ball or just doesn’t see the opportunity. Villifana is probably ok as a back up LB but the team is probably better off playing FJ at LB.

      • The issue with Acosta is he was expected to step up and own that role next to Bradley. He had big time momentum heading into this tournament. His inconsistent play shows he is not ready to be relied upon yet. That position is back up for grabs with several uninspiring candidates in line.
        Its very tough to fit Nagbe, Pulisic and FJ on the field together without playing a single striker (which we seem to suck at) or playing 2 strikers. That unfortunately leaves us defensively soft through the middle a bit..

    • I don’t know, a team that’s missing at least 6 starters (Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Johnson, Pulisic, Wood) is more like a B/C team.

      Nagbe is not an automatic starter, not when Johnson is called in. And Dempsey didn’t even start last night, but you pencil him as an automatic starter?

      • It is all dependent on where Arena plays Johnson. He mentioned wanted to Play him on the wing, I think Nagbe should be more central anyway. Tim Ream very well could get the job over Villafana as well. My point was there were about 3-4 players on the field last night who would start in a do or die game for us. SWY seems to think our backline were all starters and that dempsey will be 28 again when Russia rolls around.

    • If you are looking for reasons why we should be optimistic, start by comparing 2015 results. We had a full A team in 2015. We beat Honduras 2-1, Haiti 1-0, and tied Panama 1-1. We beat Cuba, who had most of their team defect. We then lost to Jamaica in the semi-final, and lost to Panama in the third place game after tying them 1-1 in regular time. Remember, Panama was competitive with Mexico in the semi-final, and a bad referee decision (or two) hurt them badly. Jamaica lost in the final to Mexico, also in a game with suspect refereeing.

      Jamaica made it to the final again, and unlike Mexico in 2015, we didn’t have to rely on poor refereeing to win with a B-side.

      I don’t understand the doom and gloom. We aren’t going to beat Germany, Argentina or even Brazil. But what countries will?

      • The 2015 team put out the worst Gold Cup performance we’ve seen in a very very long time. Using that as a measuring stick is not a good place to start.
        For me its not doom and gloom at all. I just think were a pretty average team lacking “cutting edge”. We have just decent players all over. Our attacking success is next summer is looking like it will be completely reliant on a teenage Pulisic and a 35 year old Dempsey from the bench. Either of them go down, and I think we are in big trouble. Sorry for not getting too excited over that.

      • Everybody assumes the US loss to Jamaica in 2015 was a disaster. don’t know if you do, but let me remind people that we dominated them as much as we did last night.We had about 2/3 of possession. We had more shots on goal in 2015 (10) and they had only 3, but 2 went in–a wonder goal by Giles Barnes after a very unusual free kick award, and a lucky bounce of a header off of a long throw in. It was all very flukey. So we dominated them in 2015, too, but were very unlucky. But we had our A team, too, then. A weird oddity of that tournament, too, was that Panama made it to third despite not winning a single game, tying all their games in regulation and added time and beating the US only on penalties. The US actually had the best record in the group stage of all the teams and Mexico was lucky to even make it to the final because of what we might kindly call fortuitous decisions by the referees.

      • This may be too late, but I am not sure if Gary and Ronaldihno are agreeing with me or disagreeing.
        Here is what I read.

        The 2017 Gold Cup was poor because the USMNT “B-team” is lacking a cutting edge because they didn’t decimate lower quality opponents who bunkered in, even though they won .

        In contrast, the 2015 A-team played poorly, because the A-team couldn’t break down lower quality opponents who bunkered in, and tied or lost close games. But that is okay because we had more possession?

        I am not trying to nit-pick the comments, and both of you speak well, it just doesn’t make a lost of sense to me in the big picture. And, i don’t know how you can’t compare the results of the two competitions to show progress or change.

      • MWRef, you’re making sense, don’t worry. the emotional shackle/scar some carry here because of their hitched soccer wagons to JK the failure is sad. I really can’t stand Klinsmann the most for that one, will never forgive him for that snake oil BS he pulled on the young US soccer culture. JK is the Harold Hill of soccer coaches

  4. Gold Cup: the US B-side looked meh against teams that it should always defeat. A manager and team will always get credit for winning games that should be won, but this tournament once again demonstrated the overall weakness of our region more than anything else. The European-based US players should comfortably resume their spots in World Cup qualifying.

    • I don’t know if this would even be possible now due to the changes with UEFA and friendlies, but Bruce Arena needs a two-game trip to Europe with only European based players like Jurgen had last cycle. I would be very interested to see that.

      Roster possibilities (more than 23):

      FWDS- Wood, Johannsson, Boyd, Haji Wright, Green, Rubin, Sargent (when he moves).
      MIDS- F. Johnson, Pulisic, Gooch, Williams, Morales, Kitchen, Hyndman, Zelalem, McKennie,
      DEF- Yedlin, Chandler, Ream, Brooks, Cameron, Lichaj, CCV, Miazga
      GK- Might need an MLS goalie because there aren’t many European gks anymore.

      My projected line-up:


      Who am I missing??

      • It would be good. Bottom line is that 5 or 6 automatic starters didn’t play in the Gold Cup, including our best player (Pulisic), our most consistent wing player (FJ), 3/4 of the starting backline, and our best young striker (Wood). The Costa Rica WC qualifier game should be a good test of them though.

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