2017 Gold Cup

Gold Cup: Jamaica Upsets El Tri, Setting Up Final with USMNT

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When it comes to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, it is very much a tournament with expected dominance from two nations who stand above the rest of the competition.

Since the tournament’s inception in 1991, the United States and Mexico have won every title save for Canada’s underdog triumph in 2000. El Tri and the USMNT also faced off in three consecutive Gold Cup Finals in 2007, 2009, and 2011 in an era that confirmed the two-horse race that is CONCACAF at the time.

Since the turn of the decade, CONCACAF’s underdogs have started to make noise in a run of non El Tri-USMNT final matchups. The epic 2011 Final at the Rose Bowl with Mexico’s come from behind 4-2 win serves as the last time the North American giants have squared off in the dream final for the television networks that thrive off the El Tri-USMNT rivalry.

Entering Sunday’s semifinal between Mexico and Jamaica, it appeared FS1 was on track to get its wish for another installment after the United States easily handled Costa Rica to book its ticket into the final. If El Tri could take down a Jamaican side that beat Canada 2-1 in the quarterfinal round, the USMNT-El Tri rivalry would finally be back on the big stage in the Gold Cup Final.

That script did not unfold on Sunday night in Pasadena, as the Reggae Boyz spoiled the party for the second straight Gold Cup with a semifinal upsetin a tightly contested 1-0 decision, giving them revenge for their 2015 Gold Cup Final defeat to El Tri and their second consecutive appearance in the final.

Backed by stellar goalkeeping from Andre Blake, Jamaica stayed in the match despite expected dominance in possession and chances from El Tri. Time after time, Blake would deny the Mexican strikers in a game where strikers Cubo Torres and Rodolfo Pizarro lacked the quality to come up with the goal to put the favorites in front.

With a world-beating performance in between the wickets from Blake to keep the score at nil-nil deep into the second half, Jamaica finally earned its opportunity at a smash-and-grab upset in the 88th minute. A free kick at the top of the box provided the perfect chance at the perfect time to kill the match for the Jamaicans and avoid extra time where their defense would be tested after staving off El Tri’s attack throughout regulation time.

Provided with the dangerous free kick at the edge of the box, New York Red Bulls fullback Kemar Lawrence stepped up to take the set piece with the final in reach. Lawrence – a fullback with just two career MLS goals and two more for the National Team – improbably came up with a perfect free kick to beat Jesus Corona and complete the stunner to send the Reggae Boyz back into the Gold Cup Final for the second straight tournament.

Long criticized as a secondary international competition due to the lack of parity caused by the dominance of Mexico and the USMNT, Jamaica’s recent success proves the rest of CONCACAF is slowly catching up. When Mexico or the United States fail to take the underdogs seriously more and more frequently they get burned with a result like this that ends their tournament.

While FS1 and the rest of the media covets the drama and spotlight of the El Tri-USMNT rivalry, upsets in the knockout round are equally as important to building up the reputation of the Gold Cup. The tournament desperately needs to be viewed as something other than a facsimile of the Euros or Copa America that CONCACAF trots out every second summer and parity definitely helps build the case that this is a serious competition.

After another dragon slaying in the Gold Cup semifinal, Jamaica will now prepare for a rematch of their 2015 upset of the United States. Darren Mattocks and Giles Barnes were the heroes of that upset in a match where then USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad were stunned by two Jamaica goals in the first half in a 2-1 loss at the Georgia Dome.

Slaying one of the two CONCACAF powers may be commonplace in the current era of the Gold Cup, but since 2000 it has proved to be an impossible task to get past both Mexico and the United States. Jamaica learned this the hard way in 2015 with a heartbreaking defeat to Mexico after their upset of the USMNT and will hope to learn from their mistakes in a final that gives them a chance at redemption.

Wednesday’s Gold Cup Final will provide yet another opportunity for an underdog nation to make history and become the fourth nation to win the tournament. With a side loaded with MLS talents, it would be fitting if the Reggae Boyz finally broke through and put an end to 17 years of dominance with a Cinderella triumph over the USMNT.