SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The U.S. prevailed over Jamaica 2-1 to claim the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Wednesday night at Levi's Stadium.
U.S. forward Jozy Altidore opened the scoring just before halftime with a superbly taken free kick, only for Je-Vaughn Watson to equalize in the 50th minute, volleying home Kemar Lawrence's corner at the far post. But Jordan Morris fired home an 88th-minute winner to give the U.S. the victory.
Here are three thoughts on the U.S. win, their sixth Gold Cup title.
1. Redemption for Morris and Altidore
Wednesday night's first half was tough and physical. Though the U.S. had the vast majority of possession as Kellyn Acosta pushed high into the attack, the Americans' forays were snuffed out against the rocks of the Jamaica back line. Other attacks were undone by passes into the box that just missed their intended target.
It was always going to take something special for the U.S. to find a breakthrough, even after Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake was forced out because of a finger injury in the 23rd minute (more on that later). Leave it to Altidore, then, to provide some heroics as he hit a sumptuous free kick from 27 yards out in the 45th minute that beat substitute keeper Dwayne Miller, grazed the underside of the bar and went in.
The goal was just the latest chapter in Altidore's tournament redemption story. Injuries robbed him of all or part of the 2013 Gold Cup, the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Gold Cup, and it seemed as if his hamstrings would never allow his game to grow. But for the better part of the last year Altidore has been healthy, and his play for Toronto FC has improved in all facets.
It has taken a while for his form for the U.S. to catch up, but catch up it has. The goal was Altidore's second in two games, and with crucial World Cup qualifiers coming up in September, he's clearly peaking at the right time. Some might quibble with the quality of opposition, but in Costa Rica and Jamaica, Altidore broke through against two sides with considerable strength on the defensive side of the ball. Altidore has been streaky in the past as well, which, given his current form, bodes well for the U.S. heading back into the Hex.
Of course, nothing is ever easy for the U.S, with the Americans' vulnerability on set pieces rearing its ugly head again. It has been that way for almost the entirety of this World Cup cycle regardless of who has been the manager or who has been on the field. It's the single biggest worry heading into the homestretch for World Cup qualifying.
In this instance, just over four minutes into the second half, Morris was simply overpowered by Watson, allowing the New England Revolution's utility man to volley home at the back post.
But Morris more than made amends, firing home in the 88th minute when Gyasi Zardes' cross was deflected into the middle of the box. Clint Dempsey got a touch and Morris pounced to nab the winner.
All told, Morris leaves this tournament as one of the winners. He scored three goals and showed a knack for popping up at big moments. Victory on Wednesday night continues a dizzying run of success for Morris: Since December 2015, he has won an NCAA title with Stanford, an MLS Cup with the Seattle Sounders and now the Gold Cup.
2. Jamaica valiant in defeat
Before the final, most conversations about the player of the tournament began and ended with Blake. He had made numerous saves throughout this Gold Cup, including plenty -- like saving a deflected effort with his foot against Mexico -- that were of the spectacular variety.
In the 23rd minute, the Philadelphia Union keeper continued his stellar form, saving Altidore's long-distance drive and then stuffing Acosta's rebound attempt from point-blank range. But Blake paid dearly for his bravery: He appeared to have a mangled finger on his right hand as a result of Acosta's attempt and had to be subbed out in favor of Miller.
It was a tough end for a player whose growth as a player has been evident throughout the tournament. The Union will be hopeful that Blake isn't forced to sit for too long.
But understudy Miller didn't do badly on the night. He might wish he had attempted to touch Altidore's blast with his other hand. That said, he did well to touch a Morris blast over the bar in the 73rd minute and then palmed Dempsey's header onto the post two minutes later. He could do nothing about Morris' winner.
The Reggae Boyz had their chances to grab a winner as well, with Tim Howard's left-footed save denying Darren Mattocks.
All told, Jamaica's players can hold their heads high. The defensive solidity and discipline found under manager Theodore Whitmore has been impressive. The challenge will be maintaining this ethos until the next World Cup qualifying cycle.
3. U.S. achieves its goal but concerns remain
In some ways, the tournament couldn't have gone much better for the U.S. and manager Bruce Arena. Without question, this was a watered-down version of the Gold Cup as many of the region's top players were absent. But Arena went in with a plan that had multiple aims. He wanted to get an extended look at some fringe players. He did that. He also wanted to make sure he had the most competitive team possible in the knockout rounds, and he did that too. And ultimately, the U.S. won the tournament, giving the team some valuable momentum as it heads into the September World Cup qualifiers.
But the U.S. also had everything going for it in this match and in this tournament. It boasted a roster with a huge edge in experience. Think of it this way: Jamaica's starting lineup consisted of seven MLS players, two from the USL and another two from Jamaica's domestic league. It would have been a failure had the U.S. not managed to win.
The result also illustrated the U.S. team's relative shortage of game-changing attackers. Dempsey did what he could, once again coming off the bench, and Darlington Nagbe continued his growth with a superb performance. But one gets the sense that the U.S. still needs more. Imagine trying to go through the remainder of World Cup qualifying without Christian Pulisic; it's sobering to say the least.
That said, the U.S mentality remains a potent force. It kept its collective head in a match that could have gotten away from it. For an imperfect team, it remains the biggest reason to believe that the Americans will ultimately reach their World Cup-qualifying goal. And on this night, it helped them secure a title.