It has been 15 years since a CONCACAF Gold Cup final has been played without the U.S. or Mexico. And both countries will need big performances in this year’s tournament semifinals Wednesday to prevent that from happening again.
The U.S., which scored only four times in group play, will face in a semifinal game a Jamaica defense that hasn’t given up a goal in 278 minutes. Mexico, which has won only once in regular time in its last 11 tries, will meet Panama in the other semifinal game. Both games will be played in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, with the U.S.-Jamaica game televised on FoxSports1, UniMas and Univision Deportes at 3 p.m. PDT, and Mexico-Panama on FoxSports2 and the two Spanish-language stations at 6 p.m.
“We know we have a challenge ahead of us,” U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. “Any team that can make it this far in such a tough tournament is a strong team. Jamaica is physical and has incredible speed. We will have to give our best.”
The U.S. did that in a 6-0 quarterfinal win over Cuba, its most one-sided victory in more than two years. The Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez scored his first international goal in that game and forward Clint Dempsey had his first international hat trick, giving him a tournament-best six goals in four games.
“Obviously, we had a strong showing against Cuba,” said Klinsmann, whose team hasn’t lost a Gold Cup game since falling to Mexico in the 2011 final, which led to the firing of Bob Bradley as coach and the hiring of Klinsmann.
“But the key to this tournament,” Klinsmann said, “is about moving on from those performances and refocusing on the next opponent.”
Jamaica is an opponent the U.S. has had success against, losing once in 22 tries. This, however, is a different Jamaican team. After giving up two goals to Costa Rica in the first half of its Gold Cup opener, Jamaica hasn’t given up another despite losing starting goalkeeper Dwayne Miller, who took a kick to the head in the group-stage final against El Salvador.
Ryan Thompson, who plays for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the third-tier United Soccer League, stepped in for Miller and has been brilliant, facing 25 shots in a quarterfinal shutout of Haiti. The win was Jamaica’s first in a Gold Cup knockout game.
Mexico has not reached the Gold Cup final only once since 2005 and that came two years ago when it lost to Panama in the semifinals. Both teams go into Wednesday’s rematch struggling, with Mexico needing a controversial call to beat Costa Rica on a penalty kick in extra time in its quarterfinal game, and Panama survived a nine-round penalty-kick shootout with Trinidad and Tobago.
Unbeaten Panama has not won in this Gold Cup, advancing to the semifinals on the strength of four ties, letting 1-0 second-half leads get away each time. And in group play Mexico was shut out by Guatemala, the first time it has been held scoreless in a Gold Cup game since 2003.
The tournament championship game is Sunday in Philadelphia, where a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, a kind of World Cup dress rehearsal, could be at stake. If the U.S. successfully defends the title it won two years ago, it will represent CONCACAF in Russia. If anyone else wins, that country will face the U.S. in a one-game playoff in the fall to determine the Confederations Cup entrant.
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