The United States is facing its toughest task yet in the 2015 Gold Cup today against a Jamaica side that hasn't conceded a goal in 323 minutes. Winfried Schaefer's team may not play the most enthralling style - they make no bones about being a defend-and-counter team - but that probably makes them a more formidable foe than the USMNT has faced thus far. Honduras and even Haiti employed similar tactics and gave Jurgen Klinsmann's team all they could handle.
On the other hand, the US finally delivered a performance that met requirements in their previous outing (a 6-0 thrashing of Cuba). The USMNT scored early, forcing their bunkering opponent to open up, and generally forced the Cubans to play up to the American level rather than the other way around. It might have been the sort of game the US needed to encourage a step up in speed of thought and overall play. We should hope so, because Jamaica is th best team the US has played in this tournament; another Group A-caliber performance could see the US suffer their first Gold Cup loss since 2011.
Key player: Michael Bradley
The Reggae Boyz will be the best-organized team that the USMNT has faced thus far, meaning that the plodding speed of play the US offered up in the group stage will simply not cut it. Bradley has not been bad in this Gold Cup, but he's been short of his best. The US is going to need him connecting his passes, pushing the tempo, and using his field vision to open things up. Jamaica will defend in numbers, so the stakes here are high. If the US can't move the ball quickly enough, Jamaica will defend comfortably while streaking forward on dangerous counters all game long. That's not a good set-up for the Americans.
Key question: Will someone else help Clint Dempsey on the goalscoring front?
Dempsey has scored 75% of the US's Gold Cup goals in games against teams that aren't made up of semi-professional players, and then he chipped in a hat trick against Cuba as well. He's been great. However, someone else on this team has to step up and be goal threat #2. Bradley, Gyasi Zardes, and Aron Johansson are the other goalscorers that aren't also center backs (meaning they should get more than one or two looks at goal per game).
Those three need to get themselves in better positions more regularly, and Jurgen Klinsmann may want to consider minutes for Alan Gordon if this game becomes more about set pieces. Dempsey could well carry this team all the way to a second straight continental championship, but the odds go up if someone else helps shoulders the burden.
Match date/time: Wednesday 7/22, 6:00pm Eastern
Venue: Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA)
TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Online: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English, requires subscription), Univision Deportes En Vivo Extra (Spanish)
Check back in just under two hours for our gamethread.