Date: Wednesday, July 26th
Time: 9:30 p.m. Eastern, 8:30 p.m. Central, 6:30 p.m. Pacific, 1:30 a.m. UTC
Venue: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Television: United States - FOX Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes, AFN Sports; Mexico - UnivisionTDN, Canal 5 Televisa, TDN, Azteca 7, SKY Planeta Fútbol, Sky HD; for all other countries check here for your listing
Streaming: fuboTV, FOX Sports GO, Univision Deportes En Vivo, Univision NOW, FOX Soccer Match Pass
Radio: Futbol de Primera Radio, Westwood One Sports
Prior meetings: The United States won the last match against Jamaica 1-0 in a friendly in Chattanooga, Tennessee back in February. The last meeting in the Gold Cup saw Jamaica defeat the United States 2-1 in 2015 to advance to the Final. Jamaica lost to Mexico in the Final, while the United States drew Panama (but lost in penalties).
How the United States will look
The United States will be looking for revenge after the Gold Cup semifinal loss in 2015, but will have to do so with a ‘B+’ side. Bruce Arena tinkers match to match more than most managers and will continue to rotate the squad around his ‘A’ level players for the final.
Tim Howard will get the start in goal, and Omar Gonzalez will be one of the center backs. Matt Besler was the other against against Costa Rica, but Matt Hedges figures to shift back in the lineup. Graham Zusi and Jorge Villafana were the outside backs on Saturday and they should be swapped for Eric Lichaj and Justin Morrow on the right and left, respectively.
Michael Bradley will start as one of the central midfielders and could be joined by Kellyn Acosta or Dax McCarty. Acosta can be the more effective player at his best, but has had a mixed Gold Cup and started on Saturday, pointing to a McCarty start. Darlington Nagbe will take up one of the wings, with Gyasi Zardes the likely candidate for the other side over Paul Arriola.
The USA has struggled at the No. 10 role the entire tournament without phenom Christian Pulisic and Arena will opt for two strikers. Jozy Altidore will start and the biggest question tactically is if Clint Dempsey or Jordan Morris (or Juan Agudelo) will join him up top. Dempsey was the man of the match against Costa Rica and his substitution in 66th minute changed the complexion of the game, with his two bits of class on the assist to Altidore and his own free kick the deciding moments.
In a Gold Cup final, can Bruce Arena really leave Dempsey, just one goal away from sole possession of the American career scoring title, out of the lineup? Dempsey may be better in a supersub role, especially going forward with an eye on 2018, but his star power still means something for the program. Either way, Arena’s choice will be an intriguing statement on the team’s mindset and Dempsey’s clout at age 34.
How Jamaica will look
Jamaica will look much like they did against Mexico. While there may be some player swaps, coach Theodore Whitmore will look to frustrate the United States defensively and look to counterattack whenever possible. The Jamaican defense looked solid against Mexico, granting precious few decent looks at goal. More often than not, Jamaica was able to read Mexico and bait them into passing into lanes that were well defended.
On the rare occasion where Mexico was able to get the upper hand on Jamaica they found what Philadelphia Union fans have known for quite some time: Andre Blake is the best goalkeeper in CONCACAF. His saves kept Jamaica in it long enough for Kemar Lawrence to hit a wonderful free kick to put the Jamaicans through.
Don’t look for many changes in either personnel or tactics from Jamaica. Darren Mattocks and Romario Williams gave the Mexican defense fits when they were able to break. The United States’ fullbacks will have their hands full against the Jamaican tandem, although even they will get back on defense to help the team out.
What to expect
With the familiarity of the Jamaican squad’s MLS contingent, the opportunity to avenge the 2015 semifinal defeat, and the pressure of playing a tournament final on home soil, it is unlikely that the USA will take the Reggae Boyz lightly, which would be extremely dangerous. Whitmore’s side deserves immense respect and his backline along with undeniable star Andre Blake currently looks like an impossible nut to crack.
Arena’s side still has the talent superiority and is coming off of three clean sheets of its own. The question will be, as it often is, if the USA has enough creativity to break down a resolute backline, except that this Jamaican backline is playing more with more discipline than anything the USA has seen all tournament. For Jamaica, its hopes rest on using its speed and power on the counter to expose the American back four. And as Mexico found out on Sunday, a set piece could be all it takes.
It’s more likely that at home, the USA will be able to poke open a breakthrough than Jamaica. But with enough mucking up of the play, Jamaica could turn this game into a stalemate. Despite Mexico’s inability to deliver another top-billed CONCACAF Final, Jamaica’s narrative and passion could make for an even better show on Wednesday night.