Analysis: Vazquez goal salvages USMNT draw vs. Jamaica
June 25, 2023
THE UNITED STATES national team opened the 2023 Gold Cup with a 1-1 draw against Jamaica on Saturday night in Chicago. After a rough first half, the U.S. team responded nicely in the second half and successfully pushed for an equalizer.
The game was always set to be a tough opponent for the U.S. team as Jamaica has bolstered its roster in recent months and years with the addition of many English-Jamaica dual nationals who play in the Premier League or near the top of the Championship. Seven of the Jamaica’s starters on Saturday were born in England and its front four - Demarai Gray, Michail Antonio, Leon Bailey, and Bobby Ried – are all starters in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, the U.S. team had only assembled at the start of this week given the final of the Nations League last Sunday was with mostly a different squad.
U.S. manager B.J. Callaghan opened with a starting XI that mixed a few veterans with mostly newcomers from within the past year. But very few of them have ever played with each other. The reliable Matt Turner was in goal, but the backline consisted of DeAndre Yedlin and John Tolkin out wide with Aaron Long and Matt Miazga in the middle.
The midfield consisted of Aidan Morris and James Sands behind Alan Sonora. The front line was Jordan Morris and Alejandro Zendejas out wide with Jesus Ferreira in the middle.
The first half of the game was difficult for the U.S. team. They had some chances but also made mistakes. Jamaica opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Philadelphia Union defender Damion Lowe headed home a free kick from Gray for a 1-0 lead. Then in the 29th minute, Turner came up big when he saved a Bailey penalty after an Aidan Morris foul on Bailey in the box.
But the second half belonged to the U.S. team as they controlled possession and applied consistent pressure in an improved effort. Eventually, the U.S. team found the equalizer as substitute Brandon Vazquez collected a loose ball in the box and slammed it past Andre Blake in the 88th minute.
The teams ended up earning a point each with both teams facing St. Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad & Tobago in the remaining Group A games. With this result, it seems likely that the Group A title will be determined by goal differential.
The U.S. team will next play St. Kitts & Nevis in St. Louis on Wednesday.
Here are some thoughts on the game.
For the U.S. team, this wasn’t a bad start to the tournament considering 1) the heavy introduction of newcomers into the U.S. team combined with the lack of preparation and 2) the strength of the Jamaican team.
Integrating several new players (or reintegrating players like Matt Miazga and James Sands who have been away for a while) has its benefits and consequences. Obviously, the benefit is getting players experience which could pay off down the line. The consequences are just as obvious – the team could take lumps along the way. Overall, the benefits are typically worth it if the right players are identified.
Jamaica has struggled to live up to the sum of its parts for a few generations now. But there successful dual national recruiting doesn’t just make this the most talented Jamaican roster ever, but it also gives it one of the most talented teams in CONCACAF. It’s starting XI should be able to compete with a full-strength Mexico and Canada teams the U.S. rolled through last week in the Nations League. And now with new Icelandic head coach Heimir Hallgrímsson, who helped Iceland overachieve from 2013 through 2018, Jamaica might be able to make the most of its talent.
What was encouraging for the U.S. team in this game is that the team improved throughout the game. Callaghan’s squad was no longer making mistakes in the second half and was controlling the pace of the game.
Overall, a 1-1 draw with little preparation, a new squad, and a very talented opponent is not a bad result.
Callaghan should get some credit for this game. He likely had to revisit his initial plans after Miles Robinson was forced out with a hamstring injury. But after the first half, he adjusted. The struggling Aaron Long and replacing him with a young Jalen Neal who has limited experience. He also brought Brandon Vazquez into the game who scored the equalizer and also got Cade Cowell into the game on the wings.
Jamaica had a lot of talent in their XI but the U.S. was able to get a result because it had depth that Jamaica couldn’t match. Jamaica only made two subs before the 90th minute and the U.S. team was able to wear them down. Moving forward, that depth could be a huge asset.
Sands, Morris, & Sonora
A lot will be made of the starting midfield trio of James Sands, Aidan Morris, and Alan Sonora. The latter two became cap tied to the U.S. program with their appearance and both made their debuts in 2023. James Sands has been with the program before, but he’s been away for over a year and a half since his April reintroduction.
It wasn’t the competitive debut Aidan Morris wanted in the first half when he conceded a penalty but he’s still well worth several additional looks this tournament as he has shown a lot of promise this year and should be at the Olympics next year. His performance after the penalty and in the second half was strong and he helped the U.S. team completely control the game in the second half.
Sands wasn’t flashy but quietly did a very nice job. He won 11/13 of his ground duels, had nine passes into the final third, was 4/7 in this tackles, completed 4/6 of his long balls, and he drew four fouls.
As for Sonora, he might have a shorter rope after this tournament unless he impresses as it isn’t clear that his club, Club Juarez, rates him highly to be a starter.
Central defense was rocky at the start of the game. Miazga and Long were both rusty. With Long, his U.S. career might be coming to an end. He was a useful player before his Achilles injury but that robbed him of some of his speed, which was his best attribute. Miazga, like most of the U.S. players, grew as the game progressed and his past year at Cincinnati has helped him after he was on the bench in Spain.
Jalen Neal should have a ton of confidence after this game. He came into the game in the second half and it was a tough stage as Jamaica was looking for the win. But Neal responded well and he remains a front-runner to make the Olympic team next year.
Turner was the MOTM
With his penalty save, Matt Turner was the MOTM. As Callaghan said afterward, he expects big players to make big players and he identified Turner as a player capable of turning the game around.
That penalty save completely turned the momentum of the game around. The U.S. was able to get to halftime when the subs were able to further the U.S. team’s push.
Looking ahead to St. Kitts & Nevis
Afterward, Callaghan said that he is looking to rotate the squad throughout the group stage. But this game has added meaning considering the draw with Jamaica. The truth is that the group will now likely be decided by goal differential given that both the U.S. and Jamaica are favored against Trinidad & Tobago.
The U.S. needs to run up the score as much as possible in the remaining games. The best opportunity to do that is against St. Kitts & Nevis. Callaghan has some decisions to make, primarily in how he will be able to field an attack-minded lineup capable of scoring a lot of goals to help the goal differential.
The starting Lineup
Matt Turner: Little he could do on Jamaica’s goal and his penalty save changed the game. Rating: 8.0
DeAndre Yedlin: His crossing wasn’t there but overall, a steady enough outing. Rating: 6.0
Matt Miazga: The better of the two central defenders on the day and he was a calming presence in the back. Rating: 6.0
Aaron Long: Was responsible for the Jamaica’s goal after losing Lowe. A few decent passes out of the back after that but he left after 45 minutes. Rating: 4.5
John Tolkin: A pretty good game from Tolkin in his competitive USMNT debut. He looked competent and confident moving forward. It was definitely a performance to help his resume. Rating: 6.5
James Sands: Not flashy but a good outing from Sands in terms of winning balls. He was an asset by the end. Rating: 6.5
Aidan Morris: The Columbus Crew midfielder nearly cost his team a goal when conceding a penalty. It took him until the end of the first half, but gradually he settled down and his passing helped with possession. Rating: 5.5
Alan Sonora: A tough outing for Sonora who missed a good chance in the first half and struggled with the physicality and the pace of the game until leaving in the 65th minute. Rating: 5.0
Jordan Morris: It was a tough night for the USMNT veteran who couldn’t generate much in the attack on the day after a good early chance. Rating: 5.0
Alejandro Zendejas: Like Morris, it was an off day for Zendejas who didn’t have much of an impact. Rating: 5.0
Jesus Ferreria: Was easily the best in the front line from a number of areas – leading the press, combining with his teammates to create. He helped in the build-up to the equalizer. Rating: 6.5
Jalen Neal: Ended up being very important to the U.S. team in this game as he helped keep Jamacia off the board in the second half and was efficient with his passing. Rating: 6.5
Cade Cowell: The U.S. U-20 winger helped stretch the game and break down a tiring Jamaican midfield and defense. Rating: 6.5
Cristian Roldan: Was helpful with his usual hard-working style. He was aggressive in helping the U.S. find another gear and found a way to get on the ball a lot. Rating: 6.5
Djordje Mihailovic: Was also important off the bench and created a decent chance late. Rating: 6.5
Brandon Vazquez: In a typical good No. 9 performance, he came up big and delivered in his only true chance as a late sub. Rating: 7.0