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USMNT won't look past shorthanded Jamaica: 'They’ll fight until the end'
United States

USMNT won't look past shorthanded Jamaica: 'They’ll fight until the end'

Published Mar. 20, 2024 8:53 p.m. ET

The game everybody wants to see in Sunday's Concacaf Nations League final is no secret. It's the United States against its historic rival, Mexico, with a trophy and regional bragging rights on the line in front of some 80,000 fans — most of them green-clad backers of El Tri — at AT&T Stadium, the glittering home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.

But first, the U.S. and Mexico have to get there. For the Americans, that means not looking past Jamaica in Thursday's semi at Jerry World. The Reggae Boyz haven't qualified for a World Cup since their lone tournament appearance in 1998. But Jamaica is now widely regarded as Concacaf's team on the come-up. Bolstered by the addition of several English-born dual-nationals and highly-regarded Icelandic manager Heimir Hallgrímsson, the Caribbean nation of fewer than three million stunned Canada in Toronto last November to reach the final four.

"It's a dangerous game for us," USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said during Wednesday's pre-match press conference. "We know Jamaica is a robust team. They're going to fight until the end. We saw that against Canada in the quarterfinals."

Still, the Americans are the clear favorites. Same for Mexico against Panama in Thursday's other semifinal. That was the case even before word came down that Reggae Boyz star Leon Bailey, who has eight Premier League goals for Aston Villa this season, had been left off the squad by Hallgrímsson for breaking curfew last camp. Another of Jamaica's top attackers, West Ham striker Michail Antonio, withdrew from the roster on Thursday.


Those absences figure to help the hosts. But it also significantly alters the pre-match preparations for Berhalter's side.

"It puts us on higher alert, no question about it," the U.S. boss said. "I spoke to the team about this today: We know the guys that are going to get their opportunity [Thursday] night are going to give everything to show this coach they want to be part of the squad for Copa América."

That's not to say the U.S. players won't be familiar with Thursday's foe. Ten of Jamaica's players play in England's top two leagues. Midfielder Bobby Decordova-Reid is teammates with U.S. defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson with Prem side Fulham. American forward Haji Wright calls Joel Latibeaudiere and Kasey Palmer colleagues at second-tier Coventry. At a team meeting on Thursday morning, Berhalter asked his players for scouting reports.

"A lot of us were able to speak up," Ream said, "Because we've played either against or with a good number of guys who play for Jamaica."

As much as the home side isn't looking past Thursday's game or two another potential title bout with El Tri, this summer's Copa América isn't far from the USMNT's minds, either. With the U.S., Canada and Mexico co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, they each received an automatic berth — and therefore will not have to face qualifying matches played across the Concacaf region under intense, relentless pressure. That means the Nations League and Copa take on an added importance this year.

"We're using the tournament as a pivotal part of our preparation for the World Cup," Berhalter said. "We're using Copa América, these high profile friendly games that we have [against Brazil and Colombia in June] because the way we look at it is, elimination games and playing against the best teams in the world are going t prepare us for 2026. We don't have qualifying. What else is there? It's clearly Nations League, knockout competition, [the] chance to win a trophy."

Or more accurately, keep one. The U.S. won the first two editions of the Nations League, beating Mexico in an epic finale in 2021 before rolling past Canada with relative ease in last year's title match. 

"I want to keep winning this trophy and only let us win it and to the point that it gets boring to people that we keep winning it," Robinson said earlier this week. 

The first test awaits on Thursday. 

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men's and women's national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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