USMNT 3, Jamaica 1: Wright, Reyna star in USA's comeback to reach the Nations League final

USMNT 3, Jamaica 1: Wright, Reyna star in USA's comeback to reach the Nations League final

The U.S. men's national team was down 1-0 and on the cusp of a third-place match in the CONCACAF Nations League finals, but Jamaica's 95th-minute equalizer saved Gregg Berhalter's side, which beat the Reggie Boyz. 3-1 after overtime at AT&T Stadium on Thursday.

The United States will now play Mexico in the title match on Sunday.

The USA was fighting from behind almost the entire time against Jamaica, which scored after just 34 seconds – the fastest goal the USA had conceded in the last century. Once in extra time, two goals from injured substitute Haji Wright, both assisted by Gio Reyna, secured a chance at a second successive Nations League title.

Below are our excerpts from a strange game in Arlington, Texas.

Contact Rena Wright

Hajj Wright made a late entry into the US Nations League squad after Norwich City striker Josh Sargent was ruled out through injury, and his 96th-minute extra-time goal may have earned him a permanent job for Sunday's final.

His stunning goal to score the winning goal was rare in a match in which the Americans were sluggish and lacking inspiration, and it was thanks to Gio Reyna, who is short of minutes at Nottingham Forest.

Wright collected a clever through ball outside the boot from Reina, parried a defender and finished past Jamaica keeper Andre Blake with that left foot. Wright's running timing had to be perfect. Reina's pass was perfect. It finally came together with the United States when Jamaica started to tire.

Wright's goal continues an impressive run for the striker, who had also scored a late winner for his club side Coventry City in the 110th minute of the FA Cup quarter-final the previous Saturday. He followed that up with another calm finish – Reina won possession in midfield and played another perfect through ball to Wright, who initially miscontrolled the ball before slotting it past goalkeeper Andre Blake.

“When we make eye contact, I know we have that connection,” Wright told Paramount+ of Reyna after the game.

In fact, there is no doubt that Reyna changed the game when he was introduced. The midfielder had several good through balls that led to scoring chances, and showed the vision and skill that has made him one of the most exciting prospects in the American player pool… Ahead of the 2022 World Cup and all the personal drama between him and Berhalter dominated the conversation.

“Clearly what happened happened,” Reyna admitted afterwards, in one of his first public comments about his relationship with Berhalter. “But I think we've both gotten so far past it and are just focused on the group that it's no longer an issue at all.”

Berhalter also supported Reyna, albeit more explicitly.

“I think I heard somewhere that someone asked ‘Why was Gio called up to camp?’” Berhalter asked in his press conference, likely referring to an episode of Jesse Marsh’s podcast where the former Leeds United boss asked that very question.

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“Did you guys hear that? Which one? I think (Reina) showed why tonight. It's clear he deserves to play in this team.” – Felipe Cardenas

…Jamaica registered when?

Gregg Berhalter lined up his team in his usual 4-3-3 formation to start the match, with Tyler Adams and Johnny Cardoso on the bench as they return from injuries of varying lengths. Younus Musa was tasked with serving as the base midfield under Weston McKennie and Malik Tillman. Up front, Christian Pulisic wore the captaincy, while Folarin Balogun started up front.

Whatever the game plan was with that group, it had taken a huge hit in short order.

As soon as the whistle blew, the Reggae Boyz were clinical, with Fulham's Bobby De Cordova-Reid working down the left flank and sending a cross over Joe Scally, who failed to defend Gregory Lee in any meaningful way. The Oxford United left-back enjoyed an unbeatable header and placed it well, opening the scoring after 34 seconds.

Jamaica coach Heimir Hallgrimsson and his staff may have noticed the unsuitable playing surface during pre-match preparation and decided to use it to their team's advantage. Either way, Dexter Lembekissa's quick decision to play a layup on a bounce pass was enough to put the USMNT at an early disadvantage and put Jamaica in control of the match. -Jeff Reuter

…tied with the USMNT when?

Initially, the fourth referee indicated that the second half would end after four minutes of stoppage time. Seconds after going up the board for the first time, that number had risen to five.

The first four minutes of stoppage time were much like the 90 that preceded it: the USA controlled the ball in non-threatening areas, then struggled to find a way to break down the Jamaican defence. At the 4:52 mark, the USA began a more fluid attacking movement across the halfway line, with another ball cleared over the end line by Michael Hector at 5:02.

That led to Pulisic's corner kick that went past the first defender and gave Malik Tieleman a close shave before finding an unsuspecting Burke who slotted it past his own goalkeeper.

Apparently, the resulting corner kick play was seen as a continuation of the attacking sequence that began with Wright's last-second pressure. Broadcast rules expert Christina Unkel pointed to De Cordova-Reid's delay in leaving the field after being substituted as the last straw that added another minute to second-half stoppage time.

The fact that the USA hit the final third before the end of those five minutes seemed like enough initiative to complete the move from a corner kick – and in a game in which the USA had created little luck of its own, provided a magical moment to get back into the game. -Jeff Reuter

Scattered crowd

The early start, three hours before a later game featuring the Mexican national team that has spent the past five years establishing AT&T Stadium as the “second home of El Tri,” did not set it up well for a packed house in Arlington. There was no packed house.

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The majority of the 80,000 seats in the stadium that will host the World Cup semi-finals in 2026 were empty, as the music team urged fans to make some noise during the countdown to kick-off.

The American fan section was full, but the other sections started out empty and filled up as the game went on.

Arlington is sandwiched between Dallas (42 percent Latino according to the latest U.S. Census figures) and Fort Worth (35 percent). People getting off work at 5pm on Thursday in either city may have struggled to battle a mixture of normal traffic, made worse by persistent rain and event-related bottlenecks, to get to their seats in time for the anthems. Or perhaps Mexico's fans would simply prefer to eat or enjoy the tailgate rather than watch the misfortunes of their biggest rival. Many of them were on the field for the late reverse goal, with the crowd audibly buzzing every time the huge video board showed a replay of Burke's header jutting into the ball.

The scene may be repeated again this weekend. Canada and Trinidad and Tobago's match for a spot in Group A of the Copa America begins at 3 p.m. local time Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco. A large number of Hondurans in the area may choose to celebrate in the parking lots before entering for the kickoff against Costa Rica at 6:15. – John Arnold

The crowd rallied throughout the US victory (Aric Becker/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Bad US reaction

Credit to Jamaica for being decisive from the beginning. Teams tend to let their guard down on throw-ins, especially when the game is in the opening seconds. Dexter Lempikisa decisively played a rebound pass towards Antonie Robinson, and the rebound off the makeshift playing surface left the Fulham defender swinging his leg helplessly as his team-mate, De Cordova-Reid, collected the ball and crossed it across goal. The box before the finish line. Scully failed to read the play, and Lee's emphatic header was just reward for a well-conceived play.

(Note to aspiring coaches: Never miss a throw-in in the attacking third.)

Apparently, the temporary playing surface continued to play a role. Even on Paramount+ streaming, it was easy to spot three or four different shades of grass colors — some a healthy green, others an almost painful yellow. As a result, different areas of the pitch presented the ball with a completely different surface: allowing the ball to rush in some locations, and causing some awkward bounces or slow movement in others.

Naturally, a team that bills itself as a regional heavyweight will have to respond, especially in a home venue. Jamaica continued to frustrate the United States, wisely using tactical errors to slow down the home team before they could get into their rhythm and block the middle channel outside the box to force crosses that played to Jamaica's advantage. Folarin Balogun misplayed some passes, and it was nothing more than a light pass on the counter that ended up being an unmarked Christian Pulisic pass.

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Clearly, the United States was frustrated. Timothy Weah and Weston McKennie were desperate to work the game, often roaming from their usual positions in the hope of creating numerical advantages in any area of ​​the pitch. It took nearly 47 minutes of concentration, but Jamaica did well to send the USA through to half-time with a few encouraging moments to show for their impressive 81% first-half possession. -Jeff Reuter

Jamaica still awaits a defining moment for this generation (Ron Jenkins/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Jamaica is still waiting for a breakthrough

During a Nations League preview event in Dallas on March 5, Jamaica's Icelandic coach Heimir Hallgrimsson was asked when his team would be able to qualify again for the CONCACAF elite.

“In two weeks,” Hallgrimsson said with a smile.

Trust is not an issue for Grimsson. He's made a habit of inspiring weak nations to memorable results, having coached Iceland to a historic win over England in the 2016 European Championships and then qualified his country for the World Cup two years later. They were the youngest country ever to qualify for the tournament.

Hallgrimsson sees many similarities between the Iceland team and the Jamaica team he coaches today.

“Jamaica will always be a small country compared to the big powers,” Hallgrimsson recently told The Athletic. “The United States, Mexico and Canada, their federations have a lot more resources, and they can give the players better facilities and better support than we can. We just need to make sure that we can give the best of what we have.”

With several key players missing tonight, Jamaica did just that. Undermanned on paper, Jamaica managed to equalize against the United States through disciplined defensive tactics. This was a staple of Hallgrimsson's team in Iceland as well. It's not pretty, but it works.

“This game is completely different from all other sports,” Hallgrimsson said. “This game is completely different because the number of goals scored is very low. If you don't concede you can win any game. So, there are some basic things that need to be 100% right. And I think we are getting there slowly. And then Jamaica has the quality An individuality that enables her to harm anyone.

Jamaica came close to pulling off a historic upset in Dallas, but finally collapsed in overtime. For Hjalgrimsson, the loss will be a reality check. To eliminate a regional giant, 120 minutes of perfection are needed.

“I hope we are also close to winning the title, and I hope that happens now,” Hallgrimsson said. “But if not, we are at least optimistic, and we hope that we will improve from now on, but we have a chance, and we will try to seize this chance. So why not?” – Felipe Cardenas

(Photo by Steven Nadler/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

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