After underwhelming through the group stage of the 2015 Gold Cup, the United States produced the emphatic win many had been clamoring for when dismissing Cuba 6-0 in the quarterfinals. Now only Jamaica stands between Jürgen Klinsmann’s side and a trip to the final to defend its trophy and confirm its spot at the 2017 Confederations Cup.
The U.S. had shown patchy form in beating Honduras and Haiti as well as drawing with Panama, but was switched on from the start against an admittedly over-matched Cuba side, which was decimated by defections and had lost by the same 6-0 scoreline to Mexico to start the tournament.
“We wanted them to take it really seriously,” Klinsmann said afterward, according to U.S. Soccer’s website. “We didn’t want to waste anything. We didn’t want to fool around and kind of show off or anything like that. I made it very clear, if there’s somebody on the field that takes it lightly, we’re going to take him off after 10 minutes.”
Instead, it only took four minutes for Clint Dempsey to put the Americans in front. Stripped of the captaincy ahead of the competition, the 32-year-old continued his spearheading of the U.S. team, getting the first and last goals and a penalty in between to net his maiden hat-trick for his country and take his tally for the 2015 Gold Cup to six.
But there were plenty of other reasons for encouragement going forward to what is the true business end of the competition. With Jozy Altidore released from the squad following the group stage, Aron Johannsson put in a superb performance leading the line up front and added a special goal for good measure. Another gifted, young attacking player also showed well, with 23-year-old LA Galaxy product Gyasi Zardes getting among the goals and continuing his impressive development with the national team.
And, while it didn’t get the run of draw when being handed the toughest group in this year’s competition, there is little doubt that at the start of the tournament the U.S. will have gladly taken a semifinal matchup against Jamaica. The other side of the draw, where Mexico, having already had to go through last year’s World Cup quarterfinalists Costa Rica, will meet 2013 Gold Cup runners up Panama, is unquestionably more treacherous.
Still, given the professional performance against Cuba, there would appear to be little danger of the U.S. underestimating a Jamaica side that has gone through the tournament undefeated. Under veteran German coach Winfried Schaefer, the team is now a well-oiled machine, having been together since last month’s Copa America. In Chile, Jamaica lost all three matches, yet was far from disgraced in losing 1-0 to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Back in the surrounds of its own confederation, the Caribbean nation has turned those solid performances into positive results. Following an opening 2-2 draw with Costa Rica, Jamaica has gone three games without conceding a goal, with one strike of its own enough to beat Canada, El Salvador and, in a closely fought quarterfinal, Haiti.
The U.S. shouldn’t hold any surprises for Jamaica, either, with 12 members of its squad playing or having previously played in leagues based in the United States. And Giles Barnes, who has scored six goals for the Houston Dynamo this season and got the only goal against Haiti, is confident Jamaica can continue its run and reach the Gold Cup final for the first time in the country’s history.
“People didn't expect us to win our group and we won our group,” Barnes said, via the Concacaf website. “People didn't expect us to get to the semifinal and we got to the semifinal. We know we're the underdogs, but we know what we're able of. We think we have a special group and we're going to keep on showing that as well.”
Prediction: There’s little doubt that the U.S. was the more impressive of the two teams in the quarterfinals. While the U.S. put Cuba to the sword, Jamaica dangerously sat on its early lead against Haiti. More will surely be required from Jamaica in Atlanta on Wednesday. Schaefer is a canny operator and will likely hope that his solid defense can restrict the Americans before catching them on the break. There’s no doubt that the U.S. backline has looked vulnerable so far and is more than capable of coughing up blunders that Jamaica may punish. But the Reggae Boyz haven’t shown a lot of attacking threat so far and if the U.S. reproduces its performance against Cuba, Klinsmann’s men should be on their way to the final.
Predicted score: USA over Jamaica, 2-1.
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta
Date: Wednesday, July 22
Time: 6 p.m. EDT