NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. men’s national team fought through an hour rain delay Wednesday to take down Jamaica 3-1 in the 2019 Gold Cup semifinals at Nissan Stadium.
The U.S. has struggled in recent matches to find a rhythm in coach Gregg Berhalter’s system, but they looked connected from the start against the Reggae Boyz. The Stars and Stripes tallied three shots on goal in the first six minutes of play.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic ignited the U.S. momentum early when he sent a through ball to Altidore in front of goal. Altidore mishit the shot, which was easily saved by Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake. A minute later, winger Jordan Morris sent a ball in for Altidore. The initial shot was blocked and teammate Paul Arriola missed a close-range follow-up.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” Pulisic said. “We had our tactics right at the time. I thought we were really really sharp at the start of the game.”
Berhalter broke from his previous lineup and added in a much-anticipated switch at forward, starting Altidore over Gyasi Zardes. Defender Reggie Cannon, Morris and Matt Miazga also filtered into the lineup. The adjustment highlighted the young U.S. talent of Weston Mckennie and Pulisic, who both got on the score sheet for the US.
“They are fearless,” Berhalter said of Mckennie and Pulisic. “They have a good mentality. I think they are very good soccer players and they give you solutions.”
Jamaica sat back and absorbed the U.S. pressure for the first 17 minutes of the game before the weather delay. The Reggae Boyz made only a handful of runs on the counter but nothing too dangerous for the U.S.
With control of the ball, the Americans quickly planned out an attack with a series of passes starting with Michael Bradley. Bradley held the ball at midfield before finding the foot of Cannon on the wing. Cannon one-touched the ball to Altidore in the box, who laid the ball off for McKennie instead of taking his own chance. The attacking midfielder perfectly timed a late run in and opened the scoring.
“[Altidore] is not selfish. He thinks about the team,” Mckennie said. “He definitely helped us today in hold-up play and getting … sacrificing his goal-scoring chance for someone else’s chance.”
And then came the lightning.
Referee Ivan Barton signaled for the team captains to join him by the sideline in the 16th minute before notifying the rest of the stadium of the weather delay. Lightening in the area held play for almost an hour before the teams rejoined the field.
While players tried to stay sharp in the locker room, a few fans got rambunctious, stole a team ball bag and distributed them in the stands while two other fans invaded the pitch. A team of security guards tackled one of the invaders before escorting both men off the field.
Just as it looked like the game would resume, a massive bolt of lightening lit up the sky over the east side of the stadium. The referees deliberated for a few moments before proceeding with the restart.
“It’s part of soccer and the guys dealt with it in a really good way. It gave us time to look at film and give them encouragement,” Berhalter said of the weather delay. “We showed a relentless spirit when we came back out tonight.”
The delay gave Jamaica a little bit of a spark, and while the U.S. committed a few careless turnovers, the Reggae Boyz could not convert before halftime.
“If I had to be critical of one aspect of the game, I didn’t think we came out of the break with the same intensity,” Berhalter said. “It is difficult to recreate that the way we started because we started really sharp.”
In the second half, Jamaica looked frustrated as the U.S. shut down Reggae Boyz leading Gold Cup scorer Darren Mattocks.
In the 52nd minute, McKennie sent a long pass into the box for Morris. Blake blocked Morris’ shot, but paid the price for not holding onto the ball as Pulisic rushed in to clean up the rebound, which doubled the lead.
“I think it has been a good learning experience playing the role that I like to play,” McKennie said. “Coming from Schalke, I play a lot of positions this past season. Learning this system and getting used to it, I think it has gotten better over time.”
The Reggae Boyz got a goal back in the 69th thanks to a Shamar Nicholson header. Zardes, who subbed on for Altidore in the 56th minute, gave up the ball in his own half, leading to the Jamaica goal. It was the first goal the U.S. conceded during the 2019 tournament.
The goal ignited the Jamaican attack and within five minutes, the team were back in front of goal with a chance on net that forced goalkeeper Zack Steffen to make a flying block with his right fist.
“In my opinion, we lost a little bit of our legs,” Berhalter said. “That was a pivotal moment for me. I am really disappointed that we conceded a goal in this tournament, but it is a learning moment. Looking back on it now, I am glad we did because the guys had time to dig deep.”
The tension broke in the final five minutes of the game when Pulisic cleaned up another rebound. This one was off of a shot from Arriola that was blocked by Blake. Once again, the Jamaican goalkeeper could not stop Pulisic’s follow-up.
“Christian can give you solutions that, when he is in moments that you think are very difficult to navigate out of, he finds a way,” Berhalter said. “That is a great quality of his.”
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) July 4, 2019
Pulisic, a 20-year-old who recently joined Chelsea, scored 13th U.S. goal.
“We have been together for over a month and from the beginning we have talked about our goals and objectives. One of our goals is to win the Gold Cup,” Berhalter said. “[Advancing] is good for the confidence of the group.”
The brace from Pulisic sends the U.S. to the Gold Cup final against rival Mexico Sunday. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. ET in Chicago, where the Americans play for a chance to capture back-to-back titles.
“As an athlete, as a competitor, there is nothing better than playing in a final. Plain and simple,” Bradley said. “When you add in the fact that it is a final against Mexico, our big rival, a rival where there is so much passion, history, respect, there is nothing better.”