SANTA CLARA: Jordan Morris’s late strike lifted the United States to a 2-1 victory over Jamaica on Wednesday in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
The United States captured their sixth Gold Cup crown — one shy of Mexico’s record seven victories in the regional championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Morris sealed it in dramatic fashion with a goal in the 89th minute.
A misdirected Jamaican clearance was knocked down by US super-sub Clint Dempsey near the penalty spot and Morris blazed a right-footed shot past Jamaican keeper Dwayne Miller and inside the right post.
Jozy Altidore’s superb free kick had put the United States ahead in the 45th minute, but Jamaica’s Je-Vaughn Watson equalized in the 50th as the underdog Jamaicans pushed the US hard.
Jamaica were playing in their second straight Gold Cup final, after falling to Mexico in 2015.
That year they ousted the United States in the semi-finals, while this year they sent the Mexicans packing.
Although they have joined the US and Mexico as the only teams to reach back-to-back finals, they are now just the second team to lose consecutive title matches.
Since the inception of the Gold Cup, Mexico and the US have won all but one edition, with Canada triumphing in 2000.
Jamaica lost their talismanic goalkeeper, Andre Blake, to a hand injury early in the contest.
Miller was in goal as halftime approached, when US captain Michael Bradley was fouled in mid-field and Altidore curled the ensuing free kick over the wall and into the top corner of the net.
Miller soared to get his fingertips to the ball but couldn’t keep it out of the net.
Jamaica pulled level when Watson bulled his way past Morris on a Kemar Lawrence’s corner kick to volley a short shot past US goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Morris admitted that he was stung when the man he was marking scored — and relieved he could make up for it with the game-winner.
“Credit to Jamaica — they made it very tough for us,” Morris said. “I was nervous — it was my guy that scored on the (Jamaican) goal. So I was trying to make up for that any way I could.
“Obviously, I take responsibility for it, but luckily I could put it in the back of the net.”
For Jamaica, however, Morris’s goal was “like a dagger in the heart,” Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said.
“But again, this is football,” he said. “If you look in the semi-final against Mexico, the same thing happened in that game (when Jamaica scored an 88th-minute winner).”
The first real chance for either team had come in the 19th minute, and the play proved costly for Jamaica.
Altidore fired a 25-yard blast and Blake rose to make the save. Trying to score from the rebound, the United States’ Kellyn Acosta crashed into Blake, whose right hand was injured badly enough to take the Jamaican captain out of the game.
He had led Jamaica to three shut-out victories in the tournament, including a 1-0 triumph over defending champions Mexico in the semis.
‘This means everything’
The United States are now unbeaten in 14 matches since Bruce Arena returned for a second spell as coach, taking over from Jurgen Klinsmann after the German was sacked in the wake of a 4-0 loss to Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying last year.
The US were less than convincing in group play with a young, inexperienced squad, but Arena called in veteran stars for the knockout rounds, adding Altidore, Dempsey, Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“This means everything,” said the 38-year-old Howard, who hadn’t allowed a goal in the tournament until Wednesday. “As you get older and get to finals, there’s so much pressure to win because I don’t know how many more finals I’ll come back to.”
Arena said the tournament showed the US were heading in the right direction, with World Cup qualifying set to resume on September 1.
“We had a tournament where we scored by far the most goals of any team, were second in goals conceded, got five wins and used 27 players,” Arena said. “It was an exercise that was outstanding for our program. Certainly not perfect, but for what we were trying to accomplish, we (succeeded at) that.
“We’ve made progress, but have a long way to go. Certainly, we need to integrate our (absent European-based) players, which is difficult. … I’ve got to find the right blend. We’re a long way from qualifying for a World Cup, and that’s the objective for sure.”