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Gold Cup Final: USA are CONCACAF Champions once more

Bombs, bones, and a last minute winner

United States v Jamaica: Final - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup
The US raises the Gold Cup
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

That’s all folks, the 2017 edition of the Gold Cup is officially in the books with the United States lifting their 6th Gold Cup trophy. With the victory the US has qualified for the play-in-game against the winner of the 2019 Gold Cup, with the winner moving on to the Qatari version of the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2021.

Your heart goes out to the Jamaican’s as they showed a lot of heart but fell just short for the second time in a row, losing to Mexico in the final of the same tournament two years ago. Let’s break down the biggest moments of tonight’s final as the US comes out on top and are CONCACAF Gold Cup champions once more.

From Goat to Great

The US seemed to be cruising to an easy victory tonight with the team passing very well, dominating possession, and creating plenty of chances. They were up 1-0 on a beautiful free kick by Jozy Altidore (we’ll get there in a minute) and Jamaica had zero shots. We’re not talking no shots on goal, we are talking no shots at all. In one brief lapse of focus in the 50th minute, Jordan Morris allowed Je-Vaugn Watson to break free to the back post on a corner kick and blast home the equalizer. Jamaica’s first shot of the game found the back of the net and gave new life and determination to a team that had been smothered by the US defense all night.

While the goal didn’t change the fact that the US was playing extremely well, you couldn’t help but hold your breath each time Jamaica broke out on the counter or won a free kick in a dangerous position. As the game grew long in the tooth and it seemed destined to an extra 30 minutes that no player looked thrilled about, Jordan Morris made up for his earlier gaffe.

As Gyasi Zardes found space to whip in a cross from the right side, Clint Dempsey got just enough of a touch on the ball to settle right in front of Jordan Morris who slammed home the game winner. Morris was visibly emotional after the game mentioning in his interview with Fox Soccer that he felt so bad for giving up Jamaica’s goal that he felt he had to somehow make up for it, and he did.

MLS has arrived

I have written about this in the past, that MLS has done more for CONCACAF soccer than any other league in the world. I still believe that we have a way to go if we are going to close the gap with Liga MX as the best league in CONCACAF. That being said, MLS is a more valuable league then Liga MX to the collective federation.

Tonight’s final featured 15 starters between the two teams who call MLS their home. On top of that 10 of the subs between the two teams also play in MLS. That is more participants in a Gold Cup final from MLS than ever before.

Liga MX has more money and more individual talent than any other league in North America, but historically, players from Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Canada and Jamaica have not been able to make it onto a Liga MX roster. Those that have are few and far between. MLS has raised the talent in our confederation more than any league before, and that is something to be proud of. It will continue to pay dividends as we seek to raise the profile and respect of the confederation around the world.

Jozy Altidore drops some bombs

If it weren’t for the Jordan Morris heroics that won the game, Jozy Altidore would have had the two most game changing plays of the night. In the 18th minute Altidore unleashed a rocket from outside that box that was coming in hot. Andre Blake, your Golden Glove winner of the tournament did a phenomenal job to parry the ball away as it knuckled. The ball dropped right in front of Blake and as he rushed to clear it Kellyn Acosta ripped a second shot, and Andre Blake’s hand at the same time.

Blake immediately hit the deck in pain as footage showed his hand shaking uncontrollably and what appeared to be both blood and bone were exposed from his gnarled hand. Blake, who had been an absolute revelation in this tournament was subbed off in heartbreaking fashion and replaced by keeper Dwayne Miller who had not played a single minute of the tournament prior.

It was Altidore’s initial bomb that lead to the sequence, and it was another bomb that came in the 45th minute off a free kick that sent the US into the locker room at halftime with the lead. The irony of it all is that while Jozy’s free kick goal was really good, based on Andre Blake’s form in this tournament you can speculate that had he not been injured on the first shot from Altidore he would have stopped the second one from finding the back of the net. Soccer can be a real bastard sometimes.

Whose World Cup stock has risen?

Apart from winning it all, one of the most critical purposes of this Gold Cup was to see which fringe players should be in regular rotation the rest of the way through qualifying and on to Russia. The US played 7 total games if you including the friendly against Ghana. The US won 6 with their only draw coming against Panama in the group stage. During that time the players that really stuck out who were previously more up and down were Jordan Morris, Omar Gonzalez, Darlington Nagbe, and Graham Zusi.

Now you can argue that Gonzalez has already played in a World Cup, and that Darlington Nagbe is not a fringe player. But Gonzalez has had pressure from above in John-Anthony Brooks and Geoff Cameron, as well as pressure from below with the emergence of Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, and Matt Besler. Gonzalez proved once again that he should be up near the top of the list of call ups at central defense.

Similarly, Nagbe is great but he plays a position that is deep in options for Bruce Arena. Tonight, as he has done through the whole tournament, Darlington Nagbe was so good on the ball. He rarely misplaced a pass and almost never had the ball taken from off his feet. He did a phenomenal job in possession and did a lot of the little things that go unnoticed but make a big difference for his teammates.

Graham Zusi tonight looked like a right back. I have had a hard time buying into his national team transition from midfielder to defender but tonight he was asked to mark the speedy Darren Mattocks and Zusi did very well. He continually pressed up the flanks, winning the ball back high and sending crosses into the box. At one point, with Jamaica on a very dangerous counter, Graham Zusi made nearly a full field recovery run to catch Mattocks right as he was about to enter our own 18. Is it enough to unseat Deandre Yedlin as the preffered right back, no. But for me he built up more confidence that he should be the second option over Timothy Chandler and company any day.

Gold Cup Awards

Last but not least, let’s look at the individual awards and tournament best XI. Another tip of the cap to MLS with each of the individual awards going to players from within the league.

  • The Golden Ball, given to the best player of the tournament went to the US’s Michael Bradley.
  • Andre Blake of Jamaica took home the Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goal keeper. It really is a shame how his tournament ended.
  • The Young Player Award as well as the Golden Boot go to Canada’s 16 year old Alphonso Davies. This young man has a bright future ahead of him with the Vancouver Whitecaps and beyond. Jordan Morris tied for most goals in the tournament with the tie-breaker being assists, which went to Alphonso Davies.
  • The US won the Fair Play Award for exemplary behavior.
  • Lastly, 6 of the tournament’s best XI came from the US. Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, Jordan Morris, and Jozy Altidore.