Gold Cup final tale of the tape: United States to overcome Jamaica
It's not the matchup that many anticipated, but it'll decide the 2017 Gold Cup championship nonetheless. Jamaica's stunning takedown of Mexico on Sunday night in Pasadena, California, both avenged its loss in the 2015 final and set up a showdown with a United States team that will surely like its chances of walking away with the trophy.
Though some might be disappointed not to see yet another renewal of the El Tri-USMNT rivalry, it'll certainly be compelling watching Jamaica try to become the least likely federation champion since Canada in 2000.
At first glance, the United States has a distinct edge, but there are some areas Jamaica will hope to exploit in pursuit of another upset. Here is the tale of the tape.
Just about any time in the past decade-and-a-half, the advantage would have gone to Tim Howard without a second thought. But the 38-year-old is no longer the unquestioned top goalkeeper in CONCACAF. That's Real Madrid No. 1 Keylor Navas, of Costa Rica, who sat out this tournament to rest up after an arduous league campaign.
After Navas, though? Jamaica's Andre Blake has as good a shout as anybody. Blake has been exceptional all month, and especially in the knockout rounds. Exhibit A: The otherworldly save the 'keeper somehow pulled off to deny Junior Hoilett's would-be equalizer against Canada in the quarters. He was even more dominant against Mexico.
The U.S. knows better than most what the value of a red-hot goalkeeper is. Even if the USMNT jumps on the Reggae Boyz early, Blake could single-handedly keep this close.
The American back line has been shaky at times. A good example being the narrow 3-2 win over Martinique during which the minnows found plenty of open space to exploit.
Jamaica's run to the final has been built on the foundation of a stingy defense. It has allowed just two goals all tournament, and shutting out Mexico twice in as many weeks is a legitimate feat.
This category isn't all that close. Kellyn Acosta, the 21-year-old, has occasionally betrayed his youth and the Americans have lacked for a true playmaker like Christian Pulisic, who took this tournament off, or a hard-charging winger to help stretch the field.
Still, the USMNT boasts depth and versatility that give it the nod. Michael Bradley remains a bona fide game-changer on his day, and Darlington Nagbe was great in the semis. Acosta, too, despite his early unevenness, feels due for a signature moment with which to crown his first major international tournament at senior level.
Edge: United States
As much as Darren Mattocks inexplicably turns into Superman every time he dons Jamaica's yellow, green and black jersey, based on pedigree alone this isn't much of a debate.
Despite what has often been a frustrating sophomore campaign with the Sounders, Jordan Morris has looked rejuvenated over these past few weeks. Jozy Altidore is divisive in American soccer circles, but there is no attacking player on the other side you would trade him for ahead of the final.
Clint Dempsey is one goal away from breaking Landon Donovan's all-time USMNT scoring record, and he's likely to start on the bench.
Edge: United States
Full credit to what Theodore Whitmore has done with a team that was reeling when he was appointed on an interim basis following Jamaica's disappointing showing in the World Cup qualifiers.
Few gave the Reggae Boyz much of a chance to recreate their magical run to the 2015 final, but they've been hard to break down and opportunistic in the biggest moments. If there were a "Coach of This Specific Tournament" award, it would go to Whitmore, hands down, and he has done more than enough to earn the gig on a full-time basis.
All that being said, on longevity alone, Bruce Arena has the upper hand. His second go-around as USMNT boss has gone about as smoothly as could have been anticipated when he took over from Jurgen Klinsmann this past winter.
Guided by Arena's steady hand, the United States is on track to qualify for next summer's World Cup and one game away from a sixth Gold Cup championship.
Edge: United States
Do not underestimate the historic significance of what the Jamaicans pulled off at the Rose Bowl against Mexico. Given the lack of precedent and the still-lingering sting of 2015, the victory clinched by Kemar Lawrence's firecracker in the 88th minute will go down as one of the proudest Jamaica has ever pulled off.
It'll head into Wednesday's final riding a high, with the fearlessness of an underdog, and is unlikely to be intimidated by the stakes.
United States 2-1 Jamaica (after extra time). It would make for a great story if Jamaica actually pulls this off, but the USMNT has too much going in its favor not to finish the job.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.