Gold Cup semifinals preview: Predictions, key players and what to watch for
We are down to the final four in the Gold Cup, with historic favorites Mexico and the United States in the mix alongside 2015 and 2017 finalists Jamaica and tournament revelation Haiti.
Here is the lowdown on each of the two semifinal clashes.
Haiti vs. Mexico
Where: State Farm Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona
When: 10 p.m. ET Tuesday
The story so far: For the first time in its history, Haiti has reached the semifinals of the Gold Cup, and it has done so in thrilling fashion. Head Coach Marc Collat's team is still undefeated in the Gold Cup, with four wins, three of which came in comeback fashion. Haiti looked dead in the water down 2-0 at halftime against Canada in the quarterfinals, but it stormed back for a 3-2 win, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of a team playing with no fear and total confidence.
Meanwhile, Mexico soared into the knockout round after tallying 13 goals in the group stage but was brought down to earth by a very resolute Costa Rica defense, squeezing out a 5-4 penalty shootout win to punch its ticket to Phoenix. The Ticos were exactly the kind of test that Mexico perhaps needed ahead of this semifinal; a little suffering to remind that nothing is given in the latter stages of this CONCACAF competition.
Haiti will advance if: Considering that Les Grenadiers were staring at a halftime deficit in three of their four wins, you would advise Haiti to concede early so it can follow that comeback blueprint. But against Mexico, that would be ill-advised; El Tri have too much quality to think along those lines, even if they played an extra 30 minutes on Saturday. Haiti's direct, counterattacking style should work nicely, though, against Mexico, and if it can replicate Costa Rica's approach of tactical fouling and bullying Mexico, Haiti stands a good chance.
Mexico will advance if: Mexico will control this one, and it'll certainly get its chances, so nothing new on that front. What will be key for El Tri is making sure they don't fall victim to the second-half Haiti surge and matching the physicality that Duckens Nazon and the Haiti attack will bring as legs start to tire. What might prove pivotal is Mexico's depth. It is a quick turnaround for both teams after playing Saturday night, but Gerardo Martino has the luxury of starting fresh legs such as Luis Montes and Erick Gutierrez in midfield and Hector Moreno in defense.
Key man, Haiti: Duckens Nazon
Once again, Nazon was a force to be reckoned with against Canada, kick-starting the comeback with a goal before providing an inch-perfect pass for the game-winning assist. To beat the best team in CONCACAF, Haiti needs its best player to deliver a top performance. The 24-year-old forward has waited his whole life for a match such as this. He'll be ready.
Key man, Mexico: Rodolfo Pizarro
Pizarro has been largely used on the flanks, but the Mexico attack seems to hum better when the Monterrey man takes a more central role. Either way, he'll be a crucial piece to unlocking the Haiti defense and setting the table for Raul Jimenez and Uriel Antuna to score the goals.
Prediction: Mexico 2-1 Haiti
To say that this is the end of Haiti's Cinderella story would be foolish because with an average age of 24.33, Haiti will have a lot to say in World Cup Qualifying and future Gold Cups. That said, Mexico's quality and depth will bear out here to move El Tri one step closer to an eighth Gold Cup crown.
Jamaica vs. United States
Where: Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee
When: 9 p.m. ET Wednesday
The story so far: With little fanfare, Jamaica has once again reached the final phases of the Gold Cup, relying on its stalwart defense and opportunistic scoring. A five-point haul in the group stage set up a date with Panama in the quarterfinals, but the Reggae Boyz hardly impressed and could call themselves fortunate to have edged the Canaleros 1-0 via a Darren Mattocks penalty.
Just when it looked like the U.S. was starting to find its stride, it produced a lethargic display against Curacao, and it, too, was lucky to pocket a 1-0 quarterfinal win. The lack of energy and urgency from Gregg Berhalter's team was worrisome, making for an intriguing semifinal between two teams that did not exactly win over any neutrals last time out.
Jamaica will advance if: The U.S. can be had on the counterattack, and Jamaica has the weapons to put Berhalter's team to the sword. Jamaica might not possess as much as Curacao did against the U.S., Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore will know how to take advantage of the USMNT's poor defensive transition. In addition, the pressure is all on the U.S., so Jamaica will be able to stay patient and wait for its chances to come.
The United States will advance if: It will be important for the U.S. to stay as error-free as possible in the back. It was sloppy against Curacao but kept a clean sheet for the fourth game in a row in this tournament and has overall played well defensively. Up top, the man still setting off all the fireworks is Christian Pulisic, and with some better support from the likes of Tyler Boyd and Paul Arriola, the U.S. can strike early and play the game on its terms.
Key man, Jamaica: Andre Blake
Blake took home Golden Glove honors at the 2017 Gold Cup and is rounding into form in the current edition of the tournament. He's likely to be tested early against a U.S. side that will be keen to erase its poor performance against Curacao. Blake's steady hand in goal will be crucial.
Key man, United States: Christian Pulisic
It is plain to see that the U.S. relies on Pulisic in attack, and the new Chelsea man will once again be tasked with creating chances against the Reggae Boyz. Whether it will be enough to find a way past Blake and a strong back four is another matter.
Prediction: Jamaica 1-0 United States
For the third consecutive Gold Cup, these two teams meet in a high-stakes affair, and Jamaica's speed will take advantage of the U.S.' defensive transition to set up a rematch of the 2015 Final versus Mexico.