By Samindra Kunti in Chicago
June 24 – The United States rescued a point with a late, close-range strike from substitute Brandon Vasquez in a 1-1 draw with Jamaica in the opening match of the Gold Cup.
For much of the evening, Jamaica were close to spoiling the United States’ opening party after Damion Lowe had given the visitors the lead with a powerful first-half header capitalizing on lax defending by the US but with their backs against the wall, the Americans rallied in the last 20 minutes and got an 88th-minute equaliser after a difficult evening.
This was not the attractive, fast paced, and at times electric football played by the US in the Nations League last week when they beat Mexico 3-0 and Canada 1-0. That was a brand of football not seen before from this nation. Yet they celebrated their late equaliser as though they had won the World Cup itself.
Jamaica, spearheaded by debutant Demarai Gray, and with West Ham’s Michail Antonio and Fulham’s Bobby Reid causing all sort of problems for the US defense, drew first blood in the 13th minute. Gray whipped in a free kick and unmarked defender Damion Lowe guided his diving header past Matt Turner, 1-0.
It was a dream start for the Reggae Boyz. At the same time, the hosts were guilty of naive defending allowing Lowe of MLS side Philadelphia Union all the time and space in the world to pick his header. Veteran DeAndre Yedlin on 78 caps and Matt Miazga on 23 caps should have tracked Lowe better.
The Soldier Field faithful were stunned, but the US were simply second best and dodged a big bullet when their standout keeper Matt Turner saved Leon Bailey’s 29th-minute penalty before the Aston Villa star scuffed the rebound with his weaker right foot.
Mexican referee Cesar Ramos had pointed to the spot after Aidan Morris caught an opponent with a high foot. On the back of his excellent Nations League campaign, Turner – celebrating his 29th birthday – provided the answer for the Americans, preventing his team from slipping to a dramatic double disadvantage.
On the left channel, Reid and Bailey kept probing as the US struggled to contain Jamaica’s Premier League-heavy frontline, but with one sweeping move of their own; the United States almost drew level on the brink of half-time, the fingertips of Andre Blake denying Jordan Morris. It was a positive finish for the hosts after a dramatic first half in which cohesion and build-up play were in short supply.
In a slower second half, Alejandro Zendejas, one of the United States’ brighter players, drove a powerful attempt just over. By then, interim coach B.J. Callaghan had introduced Cade Cowell, the 19-year-old attacker who was America’s leading goalscorer at the recent U-20 World Cup in Argentina. His arrival did little to drive Callaghan’s team forward but he almost assisted substitute Cristian Roldan in getting that leveler with a low cross that the number 10 steered toward the bottom left corner in the 70th minute only to find Blake in his way again.
The US built some pressure against a Jamaican team that were content to sit back and protect their lead. Ultimately, Jamaica’s conservative approach invited pressure and they were punished when the FC Cincinnati attacker pounced on a ball that bounced off Dexter Lembikisa to give the defending champions a point.
The Americans however had been flat and lacked the inspiration of the squad that so impressed a week ago in Las Vegas.
Next up for the US are debutants St Kitts and Nevis in St Louis, who made it through to the finals from the third tier of the Concacaf Nations League. A convincing win would go a long way to kick starting their Gold Cup campaign.
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