USA coach makes continental history
Bruce Arena wins his third Gold Cup Final
Victory over Jamaica gave USA a sixth Gold Cup title – one less than Mexico – and earned Bruce Arena a record-breaking third CONCACAF crown, although the hosts’ boss conceded: “Well, I have coached in more Gold Cups than anyone else.”
Arena called on just one European-based player for the finals – Nottingham Forest’s Eric Lichaj – and at his fifth Gold Cup he started 27 different players in his side’s six games, taking full advantage of the competition rules that allow six new players to be brought in for the knockout stage.
After a 1-1 draw with Panama, the US coasted through their group, beating Martinique (3-2) and Nicaragua (3-0), after which Arena brought in veterans Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, who helped the USA beat El Salvador (2-0) and Costa Rica (2-0) to claim a place in the Final. But just as important were the performances of a quintet of promising players who had been given little playing time, or none in the case of left-back Jorge Villafana, before Arena took over: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris, who are 22, and 27-year-olds Darlington Nagbe and Villafana.
“They are players with not that much experience at the international level, not that many caps,” said Arena of the five, who all played in the Final.
“And to put them in the fire tonight was good. I think they walked away with passing grades. That is encouraging.”
Morris was the hero, scoring his third goal of the tournament with the 88th-minute game winner in the Final against a Jamaica side that started with nine current or former MLS players themselves.
That Jamaica made it to the Final was not that much of a shock as they had been finalists last time out, in 1995, when they beat the US in the semis before losing out to Mexico. The Reggae Boyz gained their revenge over El Tri this time with a 1-0 victory to reach the Final.
Mexico’s failure was not that big a surprise as they brought a second-string squad to the tournament as it kicked off just five days after Mexico lost on penalties to Portugal in the Confederations Cup third-place game. And their cause wasn’t helped by coach Juan Carlos Osorio being banned for six matches on the opening day of the tournament for using insulting words and displaying an aggressive attitude towards the match officials in that final game in Russia.
With no Mexico in the showpiece finale – every Gold Cup they have played in has been a sell-out – the attendance of 63,032 for the Final at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, was disappointing. However, with Arena’s side now on a 14-game unbeaten run ahead of September’s World Cup qualifiers, few will be worrying about that.