The guy who almost cost the United States the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup for the regional champions was also the one whose goal won it.
Just after halftime, Jordan Morris let Jamaica’s Je-Vaughn Watson slip away from him at the second post on a corner, and Watson scored with his header. But in the 88th minute, Morris latched onto a ball in the other box and fired it home to win the match 2-1 and make the Americans champions of the region for a sixth time overall and a second time in three editions — dethroning a Mexican side that had been knocked out in the semifinals by the Reggae Boyz.
Granted, this was a so-called off-year Gold Cup, meaning the full A-teams didn’t participate because of World Cup qualifying priorities. And both of the aforementioned American triumphs, in 2013 and 2017, came during off-year competitions, which many argue shouldn’t even be played.
Jozy Altidore had put the U.S. ahead before halftime on a stunning free kick to break a lamentable deadlock before Jamaica equalized just after the break.
It was a largely ponderous and sluggish game. Jamaica clogged the central spaces well in the first half. And the U.S. was clean enough on the ball that it didn’t create any chances on the break for its opponent. That basically meant the sides negated each other.
The seminal moment, then, came on an injury in the 19th minute. Jamaica’s captain and star goalkeeper Andre Blake made a marvelous save on swerving Altidore shot. Then he bravely closed down Kellyn Acosta on the rebound, but got badly hurt in the process, finding himself left with a clearly beat-up hand, all trembling and bloody.
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[WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE.]
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But before halftime, the Americans would force a breakthrough. Just after a dangerous cutback through the Jamaican box was dealt with by the defense, Michael Bradley was fouled a fairly long way out of the box. Altidore swung the ball in beautifully, beating Dwayne Miller, Blake’s replacement. Might Blake have saved it? Quite possibly.
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The lead wouldn’t last long into the second half. On a 50th-minute corner, Watson beat Morris and headed the ball past Tim Howard. It was Jamaica’s first shot of the game.
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And then the game slipped back into its stasis. Few chances ensued. Jamaica neglected to score on a very promising breakaway. And substitute Clint Dempsey bounced a header at goal, which Miller did very well to tap off the post.
Finally, in the late going, Gyasi Zardes’ cross wasn’t cleared and was settled for Morris by Dempsey. The young forward’s finish took a very minor deflection on its way into the net.
Jordan Morris has the clutch gene!
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“It was my guy that scored on the [Jamaica] goal,” Morris said after the game, somewhat sheepishly. “So I was trying to make up for it any way that I could.”
Working out how to celebrate this trophy for the U.S. is tricky. On the one hand, it doesn’t count nearly as heavily as when all the big teams bring their best players. (The U.S. cycled in a handful of A-team stars before the knockout stage to shore up the campaign. Arch-rival Mexico didn’t.) On the other hand, the Americans nevertheless don’t win this thing very often. And this is just the sixth trophy of any kind in the United States Soccer Federation’s more than 100 years of history.
Meanwhile, any kind of momentum builder at all is useful as the clock ticks down to another World Cup — presuming the Americans wrap up qualification. Even if this tournament is a diminished version of itself in every other edition of it, you still can do worse than to win it. And that’s worth letting out a little cheer for. Especially when late last year, the national team program appeared to be in a rather sorry state, before Bruce Arena was brought back to succeed the ousted manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Arena is yet to lose in 14 games.
“This is what it’s all about,” Bradley said after the game. “It’s a final. Each team is going to give everything until the end. The only thing that matters is we’re the ones with the trophy.”
That’s the thing about this tournament. Even if it comes with an asterisk, winning it can’t possibly hurt.
It may yet prove useful down the line. As a confidence-builder. As another few competitive knockout round games won, to build further experience in that area. And perhaps as the foundation upon which an even bigger achievement can be built.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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