USMNT

Gold Cup preview: USMNT v. Jamaica (Quarterfinal)

After winning Group B, The USMNT’s Gold Cup reward is a matchup with… a Jamaica team that’s pretty good! However, barring disaster, this Jamaica shouldn’t defeat even a C-team USMNT.

The essentials

Opponent: Jamaica
Time, Location: Sunday, July 25, 9:00 p.m. CDT • Arlington, Texas
Watch party: TailGate Music Row with AO Nashville
Watch: FS1 (national) • Univision/TUDN (nacionál)

The FIFA rankings: USA 20, Jamaica 45
Competition: 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup Quarterfinal

The competition

With the win over Canada in the Group B finale, the USMNT took the top spot. That means being on the opposite side of the bracket from Mexico, but probably a slightly-tougher quarterfinal opponent in Jamaica, rather than Costa Rica.

That’s in part because Jamaica also wanted to avoid Mexico in the semis, by all appearances: they heavily rotated their lineup in the Group C finale, effectively ceding the contest to the Ticos. A tougher QF matchup against Group B’s winner, rather than runner-up, was probably worth a chance at Qatar rather than Mexico in a semi.

Yes, that also means should The Americans get through Jamaica here, it’s Qatar (which defeated El Salvador last night) up next.

The Reggae Boyz

I noted the rotated squad in the final group-stage game, and it was notable: goalkeeper Andre Blake (who had captained the team in the first two games), three of the four starting backline players, holding mid Michael Hector, winger Leon Bailey, and all three forwards who had started in the course of the first two group-stage games got some rest.

You’ll likely recognize Blake’s name, since he starts for the Philadelphia Union and sort of rules. He’s one of MLS’s top keepers so far this year, allowing goals on just 68% of xG against. His backups are performing horribly (Matt Freese at 233%!) or at good-but-not-Blake-good levels (Joe Bendik at 80%), albeit both on too low of sample sizes to know a ton through the statistical noise. One could fairly say Blake is good, nonetheless.

Blake’s Union teammate, Alvas Powell, started the first two games at right back but was rested last weekend (on a yellow). His counterpart on the left, Amari’i Bell of Luton Town in the English Championship is both on a yellow and responsible for an own-goal in the tournament, so his sitting out last game may have been a legitimate benching rather than just rest and rotation.

The scoring for this team has largely come from up top, with another Union player – striker Cory Burke – getting one, along with a USL(!) player in Junior Flemmings of Birmingham Legion. He was the sidekick to league MVP Solomon Asante a couple years ago but axed from Phoenix Rising for homophobic language. He’d probably be in MLS if any franchises were willing to risk the PR hit they’d get for signing him, so as an option to bring off the bench, he’s pretty solid.

The headliners up top, though, are

  • a Premier League player in Bobby Reid of Fulham F.C. He was eighth in minutes, first in goals, and second in xG for the Cottagers, so he’s not just a squad player.
  • Bayer Leverkeusen star Leon Bailey at right wing. He was second on the team in xG and goals – and Leverkeusen finished sixth in the Bundesliga, so that’s not a scrub team, either.

The Jamaicans will provide some legitimate danger this evening, and Blake will be difficult to score against (the own-goal by Bell is the only time he’s had one put past him so far this tournament, with backup keeper allowing the Costa Rica goal by Bryan Ruiz).

In fact, with a number of English and American players (including West Ham’s Michail Antonio) pledging to represent their ancestral home – but not available for this particular tournament – the Reggae Boyz may have a very bright future in the 2022 and 2026 World Cup cycles.

The Americans

It’s worth noting that the Americans smacked Jamaica 4-1 in a friendly just in March… but that was an A-squad for the USMNT, and the game included very few of the same Jamaicans available for this matchup (whether that’s a good thing or bad thing is hypothetically up for debate, but that was largely a B-minus versus this edition’s B-plus for the Reggae Boyz, I think you could fairly say).

With Walker Zimmerman gone (replaced by New England Revolution’s Henry Kessler after his hamstring strain), the immediate local interest for NSC fans boils down to the fact that this is your national team, not because there are any Boys in Not Gold remaining in the tournament.

Daryl Dike and Paul Arriola are also questionable with injury for the Americans – Arriola has been since the 12th minute of the tournament when he went down with a hamstring tweak – so a C-plus team that’s down three potential starters may have its work cut out for it.

The preference would be to get an early lead (really inverting the pyramid here), and let the less-proven guys take some lumps as they mix into the lineup. Whether GRegg Berhalter has the luxury to stick with the three-CB lineup with diminished depth is an open question. I would imagine he prefers it if possible – most of the tournament is a taper upward toward Mexico in the final, if all goes according to plan.

With that in mind, some of the positions I’m most interested in are:

  • George Bello/Sam Vines at LB (can one of them do enough to be a clear No. 2 on the depth chart behind Antonee Robinson – whose spot at the top is in question itself – to allow Sergiño Dest to stick permanently to the right)
  • Central midfield (has Berhalter seen enough of Jackson Yueill to let the other guys battle it out, letting his poor form for club and country sort itself out before he’s pushed back into the lineup)
  • Winger (can a Matthew Hoppe or Nick Gioacchini hack it out there to the extent that we even see true wingers on the field)

This American team is about building depth and the aforementioned taper toward Mexico. But going as strong as possible in this one with a likely-weaker (though not as much as expected?) team beckoning in the semifinal is the move, to me.

Predictions

United States 2, Jamaica 0

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