A sellout crowd of nearly 70,000 is expected at the Georgia Dome for the Gold Cup semifinals Wednesday night, as the U.S. national team faces the speedy, physical Jamaican Reggae Boyz.
Mexico plays Panama in the other semifinal, and the winners advance to the final Sunday in Philadelphia. The U.S. team is going for a sixth consecutive final, whereas Jamaica is in the semifinals for the first time in 17 years. The Jamaicans have beaten the Americans just once in 22 meetings — a 2-1 home victory in World Cup qualifying in 2012.
Team USA is coming off a 6-0 rout of Cuba in the quarterfinals, and Jamaica beat Haiti 1-0. Though they are heavily favored, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann insists the Americans are taking nothing for granted.
“We know we have a challenge ahead of us,” he told reporters. “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. Obviously we had a strong showing against Cuba, but the key to this tournament is about moving on from those performances and refocusing on the next opponent.”
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The U.S. players are very familiar with the Jamaican team, as six of the Reggae Boyz play in Major League Soccer — Andre Blake (Philadelphia), Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls), Alvas Powell (Portland), DeVaughn Watson (Dallas), Giles Barnes (Houston) and Darren Mattocks (Vancouver).
Watson and Mattocks return to the Jamaican starting lineup after missing the quarterfinals because of suspensions. Barnes is the most dangerous of Jamaica’s attackers. He has scored 26 goals in two and a half MLS seasons, and his speed will test the U.S. back line, which could include his Houston teammate DaMarcus Beasley.
Beasley, 33, had announced his retirement from the national team last winter, but Klinsmann persuaded him to make a comeback. He has 121 appearances with the U.S. team and has played in six Gold Cups — 2002, ’03, ’05, ’07, ’13 and ’15. He was expected to start against Cuba but had a mild ankle injury. He is expected to be ready to play against Jamaica.
The Jamaican defense is anchored by two English Premier League players — Wes Morgan (Leicester City) and Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace). Like the U.S. team, Jamaica is coached by a German. Winfried Schafer took over the job in July 2013 after coaching Thailand and Cameroon.
Team USA is led by Clint Dempsey, who has scored six goals in this Gold Cup, including a hat trick against Cuba. Dempsey’s 11 career Gold Cup goals rank second among U.S. players behind Landon Donovan (18).
Veteran forward Jozy Altidore was dropped from the roster after the group stage because Klinsmann said he was not fully fit, so Dempsey will pair with Aron Johannsson up top. The starting midfielders will likely be Weston native Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Gyasi Zardes. Beasley, John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez and Fabian Johnson will probably start in back, with Brad Guzan in goal.
The winner of the Gold Cup earns an automatic berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, a warm-up tournament for the 2018 World Cup.
Gold Cup Schedule
U.S. vs. Jamaica, 6 p.m., FS1/UNI
Panama vs. Mexico, 9 p.m. FS1/UNI
U.S.-Jamaica winner vs. Panama-Mexico winner, 7:30 p.m., FS1/UNI