Bring on Mexico! USMNT's youngsters and old guard combine to secure berth in Gold Cup final

The U.S. national team delivered its best performance of the Gold Cup with the side’s young stars and old guard coming together to dominate Jamaica

When Gregg Berhalter settled on his Gold Cup squad, it wasn’t nearly young enough for some critics who were tired of seeing some of the same familiar faces who were part of the team’s World Cup qualifying failure. 

Berhalter wasn’t about to just throw together a team of all youngsters, and anyone who really paid attention to the 2018 calendar year, with its youth national team feel, should have figured out why. 

Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinal win over Jamaica put into action what Berhalter envisioned for his team. The limitless potential and bags of skill of young stars mixing with the experience, savvy and leadership of proven veterans.  

Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie showed why they are the present and future of the U.S. national team program, and Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley showed why they are still needed to help carry the program into the new era. 

That quartet was at the heart of a lightning-fast start by the Americans, which saw them overwhelm Jamaica in the first 15 minutes. That hot start included an opening goal from McKennie, assisted by Altidore. Pulisic’s cat-quick moves carved up Jamaica’s defense while Bradley’s control of the middle of the field became the focal point of Jamaica’s defensive structure. 

The Americans were well on their way to a romp when a weather delay, lasting 88 minutes, threatened to steal away precious momentum. It did to a degree, the Americans didn’t dominate the same way when play resumed, but the team’s control of the match remained intact long enough to see the Americans add a second goal, one started by McKennie and finished off by Pulisic. 

Jamaica gained new life after Altidore exited the match in the 56th minute, replaced by Gyasi Zardes.  

Zardes proceeded to miss a pair of clean chances while also committing a costly turnover that sparked a Jamaica counter leading to the first goal allowed by the U.S. defense at the Gold Cup. 

The Americans showed some shakiness down the stretch, as Jamaica pressed for the equalizer, but it was young stars McKennie and Pulisic who delivered when they needed it the most, securing the vital insurance goal when Pulisic raced through Jamaica’s defense and followed up a saved Paul Arriola shot for his second goal of the night, securing his first trip to a Gold Cup final. 

It is difficult to dispute that McKennie and Pulisic were the stars of the night for the Americans, and they showed all the qualities that have U.S. fans so excited for the future. What also can’t be disputed is the role veterans Bradley and Altidore played in helping the Americans return to the Gold Cup final.  

The day will come when Altidore and Bradley are replaced by other members of the next generation of promising talents, but for now, and especially for this Gold Cup, they remain vital pieces to the USMNT puzzle. That puzzle has new centerpieces in Pulisic and McKennie, and it just might produce a Gold Cup title on Sunday.  

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