NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The US men’s national team entered their Concacaf Gold Cup semifinal with the goal of playing a much quicker, more dynamic match against Jamaica than what transpired in a previous 1-0 friendly loss four weeks ago.
Mother Nature had other plans.
After FC Dallas academy product Weston McKennie scored during a flying start in the opening 15 minutes, a lightning delay of nearly 90 minutes, combined with some already tired legs on short rest combined to produce a bruising, open but sometimes uneven final 75 minutes at Nissan Stadium.
And an evening that began as a test of the USMNT's tactical adjustment ended as an examination of their physical and emotional reserves, one they passed in a 3-1 victory that sent them through to the final against Mexico on Sunday (9 pm ET | FS1, Univision, UDN) in Chicago.
“The fact that we were on a two-day rest, this was the third day after a game. The fact that it’s extremely hot and humid. Having said that, I think the guys did an excellent job of coming out with the right intensity, the right speed of the game,” said U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter. “As the game wore on, we got heavy. Both teams got heavy.”
Said US and Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley: “I thought for the night we had a lot of good moments of really good football. I thought in other moments when it came time to deal with them throwing everything forward, to deal with their athleticism, their physicality, I thought we did a good job with that.”
Indeed, much like that previous encounter June 5 at Audi Field, there were stretches where Jamaica had the better of play and opportunities.
Unlike that encounter, however, the highest pedigree playmakers were on the field for both teams, and the US perhaps just had a couple more of them.
Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore started at striker and contributed a subtle, but crucial layoff into free space on McKennie’s opener. And of course, Christian Pulisic continued popping up in key spots, scoring twice on rebounds and generally being the most consistently threatening USMNT player for a second consecutive match.
“Christian can give you solutions that, he’s in moments that you think are very difficult to navigate out of it, and he finds a way,” Berhalter said.
And McKennie also had one of his best games this tournament. In addition to his early goal, he spotted Seattle's Jordan Morris with a pass on the sequence leading to Pulisic’s first to make it 2-0 in the 52nd minute.
That combined playmaking ability was more than enough to make up for the wizardry of Jamaica's Leon Bailey, another player who did not feature in the June friendly between the two nations. The 21-year-old Bayer Leverkusen man enjoyed his best game of the tournament on the right flank. He carved out the space and provided the service on Shamar Nicholson’s 69th-minute header to cut the Jamaicans' deficit to 2-1.
For a time, Jamaica looked more likely to be the next team to score. Instead, it was Pulisic again in the right place at the right time, this time reaching a rebound of Paul Arriola’s initial shot.
“The team shows a lot of resiliency when we go 2-1 and there’s still a bunch of time to play,” Berhalter said. “I’m really disappointed that we conceded a goal in this tournament. But it’s a learning moment. And something that, looking back on it now, I’m glad we did because we had to dig deep.”