While not attractive, and was possibly expected considering the squad for this campaign, the USMNT and Jamaica drew 1-1 on Saturday night to kick off the 2023 Gold Cup. Substitute Brandon Vazquez’s late equalizer gave the Americans a point.
We take a closer look at how it all went down, the context of some of the key plays within the flow of the game, and what it means for the team going forward.
Team USA lineup (4-3-3): 1. Matt Turner (GK) — 2. DeAndre Yedlin, 4. Matt Miazga, 3. Aaron Long (Jalen Neal, 46′), 21. John Tolkin (Brandon Vazquez, 80′) — 7. Alan Soñora (Djordje Mihailovic, 65′), 8. James Sands, 13. Aidan Morris — 13. Jordan Morris (Cade Cowell, 54′), 9. Jesus Ferreira, 17. Alejandro Zendejas (Cristian Roldan, 65′).
The Gold Cup squad available to interim coach BJ Callaghan for the opener is largely dominated by domestic players, as most of the top European players for the United States have ended their summer international duties, having helped lift the Nations League trophy last weekend.
On the other hand, The Reggae Boyz are fielding an extremely attack-heavy side, with a deadly front line consisting of West Ham’s Michail Antonio, Fulham’s Bobby Reid, Everton’s Demarai Gray, and Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey. They are, however, missing key center back Ethan Pinnock of Brentford due to personal reasons.
The birthday boy Matt Turner will captain a ragtag USMNT squad without fellow CNL champion teammate Miles Robinson due to an injury sustained before the final against Canada last Sunday. The match is underway at Soldier Field in Chicago.
There’s already an early red card shout within the first three minutes of the contest. Damion Lowe comes in reckless and high on James Sands with a studs-first tackle, which causes a problem for referee Cesar Ramos to deal with right away. It’s a 50/50 ball, and after the referees consult, Lowe receives a very early yellow card rather than red, which is the color the Americans were asking for.
Upon replay, Lowe’s studs are incredibly close to Sands’ knee, which makes it a terrible challenge, but it appears that he tried to back out at the last minute, a decision that likely kept him on the field.
After a cagey few minutes, it’s Callaghan’s men who see the best sight on goal in the eighth minute. The Americans release the pressure from Jamaica and respond with a great ball from DeAndre Yedlin to Jesus Ferreira.
Alan Sonora is given a clear shot at the back post, but Andre Blake blocks it. A considerably better effort will be required to overcome a goalie of Blake’s caliber, however given how dangerous the United States appeared in transition, this is a tremendous chance.
Reggae Boyz takes the lead in the 13th minute from a set-piece off the head of a player who debatably shouldn’t even be on the pitch, if you ask the US players and fans. Lowe, who received the very early warning, gives Jamaica the advantage. It comes from a set-piece, and Matt Miazga allows a fraction of an inch to put Lowe onside for a free header while the rest of the American defense plays an offside trap.
In the opening match of the tournament, the reigning champions are already behind!
The Americans are struggling to respond since being pegged back from the Jamaican goal. Despite having a lot of possession and applying pressure to Jamaica, the US hasn’t given Heimir Hallgrímsson’s men any more chances to save. The attacking third has been a little sluggish.
It goes from bad to worse for the Americans just under the half-hour mark as the Columbus Crew midfielder Aidan Morris fouled Kevon Lambert in the box, and the ref points to the point without hesitation. On the play, Morris swings his boot, trying to win the ball in the air but instead meets Lambert’s chest – a clear penalty. The Aston Villa man will take the spot kick for his nation.
However, the attempt is saved by the US’s No.1! The now 29-year-old Turner dives to his left and blocks Bailey’s poor attempt. The Jamaican receives the rebound immediately, but he rushes his follow-up and misses the shot!
This is a fantastic occasion for the birthday boy! It’s difficult to determine which of Bailey’s efforts was worse, the shot or the follow-up; I’ll leave you to decide.
It’s a very scary drop-off in quality from the USMNT squad that had little trouble in the CNL finals to what we have here now; the energy on the field is different, almost reminiscent of some of the worse moments of when Gregg Berhalter was in charge.
It’s been 40 minutes, and the goalscorer for the Reggae Boyz, Lowe, is still on the pitch with yet another challenge that should’ve seen him viewing the match in the locker room. After losing possession of the ball in the attacking third, Lowe makes another rash and aggressive challenge, going in two-footed on Morris. While Callaghan is pleading for a second yellow, Jamaica coach Hallgrímsson will have to consider substituting at halftime because Lowe appears to be tempting Cesar Ramos to show the red card every chance he gets.
A massive chance for the Americans in the first-half stoppage time as the Jamaican keeper denies Jordan Morris. The Seattle Sounders winger is played clean through, but Blake can snuff out the opportunity because of his heavy first touch. Morris still manages to get the shot off, but the Philadelphia Union keeper blocks it with his arm and misses wide. C-team or not, you have to finish from there. The referee calls it for the break soon after.
A largely domestically based US squad was forced into several errors when playing against a Jamaican team that includes several European senior players. Overall, the first half was evenly matched, but Jamaica took one of its two chances while the United States did not. It’s not as bad as possibly expected or could have been, but lots of work is needed to find the equalizer.
Callaghan made one adjustment to his side, bringing in the young Jalen Neal for Aaron Long. It’s difficult to tell if Callaghan was responding to the first 45 minutes or if the change was pre-planned; the LAFC defender hasn’t looked great in a USMNT shirt for quite some time. Long has a head injury from a cut he sustained while playing in MLS, and Neal now has a fantastic opportunity to compete internationally.
With loads of possession ten minutes into the half, the US interim coach decides to make a second change. Cade Cowell replaces Jordan Morris for the Americans. The young San Jose Earthquakes player in the attacking third is begging to play in this game, and as shown in the recent U-20 World Cup, he’s electrifying.
It’s been a very quiet half as the Jamaicans sit further and further back as time passes, leaving the Americans with more puzzles to put in place. The United States hasn’t generally posed much threat, so their game plan succeeded so far.
Andre Blake is on fire tonight in Jamaica’s goal, an absolute brick wall; another huge opportunity squandered for Americans in minute 71. Cristian Roldan receives a vicious cross from Cowell at the top of the six-yard box. The Seattle midfielder deflects it on goal but lands at the 32-year-old keeper’s feet, who stands his ground and prevents a goal for the United States.
To his credit, that’s a good save by Blake, but the Seattle Sounders attacker will anticipate doing better with that opportunity.
Vazquez is brought on for the left back, John Tolkin, as Callaghan throws all men forward; a striker for a full back.
Well well well, the gambit worked! Vazquez seems to be the hero after just six minutes of being on the field to save the blushes for the Gold Cup reigning champions! Ferreira crosses the ball into a hazardous area while playing from the right flank, with more attacking players added. When it strikes defender Dexter Lembikisa, it immediately falls to Vazquez, who decisively finishes it.
Not much action follows the goal, both team seemingly resigned to the draw, and the referee blows the final whistle.
It looks more like a point gained rather than two points dropped from the USMNT’s perspective, as this is nearly a full-strength Jamaican side who are tipped to go all the way.
My Man of the Match goes to the birthday boy, Matt Turner. If it weren’t for his sublime penalty stop, his team would be down 2-0 in the first half with little hope in the tank. My second Man of the Match goes to the coach, BJ Callaghan. The guy has never been a professional head coach, yet he’s undefeated against three very strong sides, and tonight he showed he could play his cards right and got it right with the Vazquez substitution. That is also not to mention he’s done it with a C-team against Jamaica.
Although the USMNT’s performance was not impressive, it did secure a significant point against the most formidable opposition in the group. With games against St. Kitts & Nevis on Wednesday and Trinidad & Tobago on Sunday remaining in the group stage, the United States has a good chance of moving on to the knockout round.