By Paul Nicholson in Cincinnati
July 9 – The USA clung on to their Gold Cup title for at least another round as they moved into the semi-finals after a 3-2 penalty shoot-out win against Canada. It was a night of passion and drama at the sold out TQL Stadium in Cincinnati.
If this match saw two teams lacking their superstar names (too big to wear the shirt?), it more than made up for their absence with commitment and sheer edge-of-your-seat excitement as it built towards a big finish.
It was Gold Cup football at its entertaining and no-holds barred best. At full time the score was 1-1. At the end of extra time it was an exhausting 2-2. Cometh the hour cometh the man and for the US at the Gold Cup it always seems to be goalkeeper captain Matt Turner who made two brilliant saves to drag his team to San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium this Wednesday to meet Panama.
In the middle of June the US and Canada met in the final of the Nations League in Las Vegas. The US ran out 2-0 winners having qualified for the final after beating Mexico 3-0. It was a heady brand of football not seen to often from US teams, and it was almost matched by a Canadian team who can’t quite seem to get over the top of the hill in the biggest games.
The US and Canadian teams had very different looks about them from that final. No Christian Pulisic, Pepe or Tim Weah (they had new clubs to do deals with), nor was there Gio Reyna or Weston McKennie or a host of other players who play in Europe. Canada were shorn of Alfonso Davies, Jonathan David and Kyle Larin. But who cares?
Those in their place provided a night of football that will live long in the memory and Gold Cup history.
The match opened with a bang with USA’s Gianluca Busio taking out the linesman in the first minute – probably not part of the pre-match strategy. After a lengthy delay a replacement was found and the game started again.
The opening exchanges were cagey but fascinating as Canada’s 4-4-2 dropped to a five-man back line against the USA’s slightly more fluid 4-3-3 that pushed and probed.
There is a lot to like about Busio who was a buzzing presence for the US whose attack was foundering on Steven Vitoria and Kamal Miller, protected by a deep sitting and physically dominant Moise Bombito.
Busio dragged wide the first real shot on goal by either side on 17 minutes. Scoring hattricks in goalfests against poor Caribbean opposition in group games is very different to the hurly burly of a big defence. Jesus Ferreira and Julian Gressel were struggling to find space in the middle of Canada’s burly backline.
In the 22nd minute Canada had their first call for a penalty on one of their first forays into the US box when it looked like an overlapping Richie Laryea had been pulled down in the US box by Djordje Mihailovic. The referee waved the appeals away.
The USA were edging possession but could not find a final ball to make it count. On 38 minutes Ferreira, increasingly looking for space wide, drilled a ball across the face of the goal only to find Alejandro Zendejas wide on the left. The US could not get the ball and the players into the danger areas at the same time.
Canada were better in that respect with Laryea making another burst down the right only to tumble in the box. The referee again waved play on.
With 10 minutes of added time and seven minutes into it, Canada again broke down the right with Junior Hoilett squaring the ball that was just turned over his own bar by Bryan Reynolds. The resulting corner saw an appeal for handball. The referee consulted VAR but judged that there had been a Canadian push before the ball hit a US arm.
The half had increased in intensity and feistiness as it progressed. But that was nothing compared to what was to come.
The US started the second half stronger. On 58 minutes Busio hit a free kick into the Canadian wall and over the goal. Three minutes later Ferreira had a shot blocked. Canada’s threat was on the counter as they struggled to gain a sustained period of possession.
In the 68th minute the best chance of the match fell to Busio, free in the centre of the goal, his shot was well saved low to Dayne St Clair’s right.
The US were now finding space to run directly at Canada’s centre backs. Alejandro Zendejas lashed a shot wide.
With 72 minutes gone US coach BJ Callahan brought on two Cincinnati FC players – Brandon Vazquez and Matt Miazga – to the delight of the local support. By 76 minutes Vazquez had flashed shots wide and over Canada’s bar.
10 minutes later Vazguez had the goal the Cincinnati crowd craved. A cross from Dejuan Jones from just inside the Canada half found Vasquez free to head home.
It was a shortlived lead. Two minutes later a ball into the US box hit Miles Robinson’s arm. After a dispute the referee turned to VAR who confirmed the penalty and Steven Vitoria stepped up to score it. 1-1 and extra time bit with Canada finishing the stronger.
The first period of extra time continued at pace with the US soon regaining the ascendancy. A Cade Cowell shot was deflected behind. From the corner Busio found a US head in the box but St Clair brilliantly turned it over the bar. The game was becoming increasingly frantic.
Busio had the chance to score two minutes into the second period of extra time but his shot was directly at St Clair who punched it away.
On 18 minutes of extra time, and against the run of play, Canada had the lead.
A mix up on the left saw Jacob Shaffelburg break down the wing and angle in on goal, firing his shot past Matt Turner. The US now had to chase the game. Busio led the charge but headed over.
24 minutes into extra time the US were level and it was Busio who scored, latching on to a loose ball in the Canadian box to hit it off St Clair’s legs and in – 2-2.
The USA pressed. Three consecutive corners and a free kick were defended by the obdurate Canadians as the clock ticked down to a penalty shoot-out.
With Canada to take first penalty, up stepped the rock that is Vitoria. His fierce shot found the immovable object as Turner stuck out a right hand in a brilliant reaction save. Local boy Vazquez stepped up for the US but hammered over the bar 0-0.
It didn’t matter, Turner saved low to his left from Liam Fraser. Cade Cowell, Busio and Ferreira all scored for the US. Miller and Jacen Russell-Rowe returned for Canada before Charles Brym hit the bar – 3-2 to the US.
US interim coach BJ Callahan played a blinder at the Nations League final and has shaped a whole new squad to find their own style at the Gold Cup. Who needs Gregg Berhalter? The US is in good shape.
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