For almost 88 minutes of Saturday’s 1-1, Gold Cup-opening draw against Jamaica in Chicago, a shorthanded U.S. men’s national team looked second best against a side stocked with Premier League attackers.
But a first half Matt Turner penalty kick save and a late equalizer by Brandon Vazquez stole a point for the Americans, who narrowly kept alive a streak of never dropping the first match of the biennial regional championship.
Here are three quick thoughts following Saturday’s match.
A gutsy comeback for the U.S.
With USMNT headliners like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and more than a dozen of the other regulars getting a deserved break between European club seasons, this younger, greener group of Americans knew they were in for a long night against what many believe is the best collection of Reggae Boyz ever.
No less than five Premier League veterans dotted Jamaica’s squad, while just one of the U.S. starters from last weekend’s successful CONCACAF Nations League defense, goalkeeper Matt Turner, was in Saturday’s lineup for the hosts.
Sure enough, it played out mostly as one might expect. The more experienced Jamaicans started strong. Lowe opened the scoring on a free header after just 13 minutes. Had Turner not stopped the spot kick later in the first half by Leon Bailey — and had Bailey somehow not flubbed the rebound, too — the deficit would likely have been insurmountable.
“Big players make big plays, and Matt made a big play there,” interim U.S. coach B.J. Callaghan said afterward. “I think it also shifted the momentum a little bit,”
There’s no question. The U.S. played with more urgency after the break, and eventually the pressure increase paid off, creating the opening for Vazquez to net his first competitive goal for the U.S.
“The feeling in the locker room at halftime, it was calm. It was clear what we needed to do,” Callaghan said. “I think you then saw a good second half performance.”
Jamaica looks like a legit title contender
The U.S. probably deserved the point in the end, but take nothing away from the visitors. With the U.S., Canada and Mexico all missing key players who prioritized last weekend’s CONCACAF Nations League finals instead, full-strength Jamaica was pegged as a pre-Gold Cup title dark horse. The Reggae Boyz’s showing Saturday did nothing to suggest that they can’t capture their first title.
“We always knew that this was going to be a strong opponent — it’s a very talented Jamaica team that can hurt you in many different ways,” Callaghan said. “There was a lot of learning moments for us and, at the same time, I think there’s a lot of great responses that we saw tonight.”
Those experiences could prove vital should the U.S. and Jamaica meet again in the knockout stage, or even the final. The Americans topped the Jamaicans in the 2017 finale, two years after the visitors famously stunned them in the semis – the lone Jamaican win at the USMNT ever. These Reggae Boyz are better than either of those squads.
Said Callaghan: “I think they can make a really big run in this tournament.”
Americans must know repeating won’t be easy
Saturday’s fightback speaks to the culture that has been cultivated in the U.S. ranks across all levels since the colossal failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Still, Saturday also suggested that the Americans won’t necessarily cruise to another regional title as easily as the first-string USMNT brushed aside the Mexicans and Canadians earlier this month en route to a second consecutive Nations League crown.
Similarly, just because a “C” U.S. team stunned an almost full strength El Tri in the 2021 Gold Cup final doesn’t mean this squad of role players and unproven kids can match the feat. Maybe they shouldn’t even be expected to. However, unfairly, they still are. Against a more battle tested opponent on Saturday, the U.S. reserves rose the occasion to earn a share of the spoils. Whether they can raise the trophy again remains to be seen. And maybe it doesn’t even matter. For Saturday still felt like a victory for these U.S. understudies, regardless of the final score.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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