US beat Jamaica in extra time to keep CNL three-peat hopes alive

March 21 – It took a deflected header off a Jamaican defender in the last play of regulation time to level the scores and keep the US in the hunt for their third consecutive Concacaf Nations League title.

A Miles Robinson flick on from a Christian Pulisic corner came off the head of Corey Burke and past Andre Blake to level the sores at 1-1 in the 6th minute of added time.

In extra time two goals by Haji Wright, both assisted by Gio Reyna, pushed the US over the line and into the final on Sunday with a 3-1 win.

This was not the free-flowing, creative US team of the Nations League finals in 2023. The US had all the possession but lacked the creativity or guile to break down a well structured Jamaican team.

It wasn’t until the end that US coach Gregg Berhalter found his game breakers – they had been sitting on the bench behind him for most of the game. For 95 minutes it looked as though the US were being sent back to the drawing board.

The Jamaicans came out the blocks fast and what a start.

With most expectations that the Reggae Boyz with six of their starting 11 drawn from England’s second and third tier leagues, they looked to be on to a hiding for nothing.

Instead, after just 36 seconds it was the Jamaicans that had the lead.

A Dexter Lembikisa thrown-in deep in the US half found Bobby Reid who crossed to the back post to an incoming and unmarked Gregory Leigh to head through Matt Turner. Turner should have done better but the US had been caught cold.

Jamaica had lined up with a back five. Such was the paucity of attacking options with Michail Antonio not released by West Ham, Leon Bailey dropped for disciplinary reasons and Shamar Nicholson and Demarai Gray sidelined due to suspensions, captain Damion Lowe, who normally anchors the middle of defence, was deployed in a holding midfield role alongside Kasey Palmer.

The US brough vigour of their own to their ball winning, but the opening salvos all went Jamaica’s way. On 12’ with Joe Scally sending everything that came near him flying, Jamaica won a free kick on the left. Jamaica weren’t just one up, they were taking the game to the US.

On 16’, with the Jamaicans committed in attack, Tim Weah found space on the right but Folarin Bagolun couldn’t keep his header down

0n 19’ Renaldo Cephas, who plays in the Turkish leagues and looked a constant threat for Jamaica, took the ball across the box left to right but hit his shot into a more composed Turner. On the counter attack the US missed a three on two advantage with Jamaica scrambling to block Christian Pulisic’s shot.

On the side US coach Gregg Berhalter cut a somewhat forlorn figure – this clearly wasn’t going to be the pushover his selection had prepared for.

The US started to work themselves into the game and build period of possession but it looked laboured and lacked any sharp incision in the danger areas. On 26’ Tim Weah, switching to the left, dragged a shot wide of Jamaican keeper Andre Blake’s post.

The Jamaicans were comfortable sitting deep and waiting the US to come to them. In attack the Jamaicans fearlessly took on the US defence, taking players on and using their pace.

On 44’ the US had their best chance of the half. Weah driving into the box found Malik Tillman on the six yard box whose tame sidefooted shot was scrambled clear by Joel Latibeaudiere. It kept the US out and the score at 1-0 at half time.

The second half began as the first had finished. The US had the ball but couldn’t get it into threatening positions and the six yard box looked as though it had become a no-go zone for US players.

On 56’ Pulisic flashed a ball across the front of the goal but there was no one there to meet it.

Just past the hour mark Jamaica should have been two up. A counter attack saw Cephas win the foot race only to hit his shot low into Turner.

Berhalter had had enough. Off came Weah, Floralin Balogun and Yunis Musah. On came Ricardo Pepi, Haji Wright and Tyler Adams.

On 66’ Jamaica’s Kasey Palmer hit what should have been a tap in from a Reid cross over the bar from 4m out. It wouldn’t have counted as Palmer was offside, but it showed how vulnerable the US backline was.

The US continued to press. On 68’ Pulisic won a free kick on the top of the box in front of goal. Tillman hit his shot over the bar. A great opportunity to build pressure wasted.

Jamaica were now defending deeper and deeper and if it was a siege, it was a gentle one. Pulisic was desperately trying to inject urgency into the US possession in front of goal but he was too often a lone figure battling the Jamaican physicality and athleticism.

With the clock ticking into the last 10 minutes the US still couldn’t find the final ball in the box to unpick Jamaica. Corners piled up, Jamaica dealt with them comfortably.

On 90’ Pepi had a first time chance 8m out that Blake gathered. Close but not close enough.

It was hard to believe that this was the same squad (though not the same players on the pitch or the same formation) that so comprehensively dismantled a good Mexico team at the same stage of the Nations League last June in Las Vegas.

But all was not lost and luck was with the US.

Deep into added time and the last play of regulation time disaster struck for Jamaica. A Pulisic corner (his tenth) saw everyone, including Turner in the box. Miles Robinson headed the ball on for Jamaica’s Corey Blake to turn into his own goal.

It was a cruel blow for the Jamaicans, a lucky day for the US.

In the sixth minute of added time the US had the lead. With Gio Reyna at last in the action he threaded the ball to Haji Wright, also on as a sub, who slid the ball past Blake – 2-1 to the US.

The second half of extra time saw Jamaica change up their game. Moving to four at the back Heimir Hallgrimsson brought on youngster Kaheim Dixon who brought energy to the Jamaican attack and could have equalised but scuffed a shit when through on Turner.

Instead it was the US who scored again and another Reyna to Wright combination that put the game beyond Jamaica at 3-1.

The US dodged a bullet. The Jamaicans missed out on another big opportunity.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1713365190labto1713365190ofdlr1713365190owedi1713365190sni@n1713365190osloh1713365190cin.l1713365190uap1713365190