Redemption for Jordan Morris, United States in Gold Cup win over Jamaica
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It's been said that strikers need to have short memories. If they miss a chance, they need to forget about it and focus on the next opportunity they get because that one is definitely going in.
Early in the second half of the U.S.' 2-1 Gold Cup final win over Jamaica, Jordan Morris realized his selective amnesia needed to reach a higher level. It wasn't a blown scoring opportunity the young attacker needed to forget, but a blown assignment. He had just been overpowered on a corner kick by Je-Vaughn Watson, allowing the Jamaican to volley home an equalizer. Erasing that memory took some doing.
"It definitely lingers on quite a bit, and to be honest I've never really had anything like that in my career, where I was kind of at fault for the other team scoring like that," said Morris. "It was tough to get over, especially in such a big game."
The messages from teammates were all along the same lines; think about the next play, keep pushing, make a difference.
"I was making fun of [Morris] because the look on his face was so sad," said forward Jozy Altidore.
Clint Dempsey added: "You have to keep fighting. If you don't keep fighting you get left to the wayside. It definitely helps build your character."
Whatever way the message was delivered, it worked. With the match looking like it was headed toward extra time, Morris pounced on a loose ball in the box in the 88th minute, and powered home a shot past Jamaica keeper Dwayne Miller to give the U.S. a 2-1 win and its sixth Gold Cup title.
"For me it was a sense of relief, trying to make up for the mistake I made earlier," he said. "If felt good that I could help the team come back."
It also gave Morris a unique trifecta. In December of 2015 he won an NCAA crown with Stanford University. In December he won an MLS Cup in his rookie season with Seattle Sounders FC. Now he has a Gold Cup to his name as well.
Lest Morris get carried away, he might want to check with some of the U.S. team's veterans to see how infrequent winning a trophy is for most players. For Tim Howard, it's been a decade since won his last Gold Cup title.
He said: "It's hard to get the young guys to realize that this doesn't always last forever. When I was younger and got to a cup final, I thought, 'Ah, the next one's around the corner.' And they're not. This is sweet."
The redemption narrative could be seen everywhere in this match. There was Altidore, winning his first international trophy after it looked like injuries would forever hamper his U.S. career. He did his bit on the night too, delivering a laser-guided free kick in the first half that snuck in just under the bar and gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead. Michael Bradley was everywhere, and for once got to celebrate winning a final that he actually played in. Howard continued to defy Father Time by delivering a clutch save on Darren Mattocks.
This was a night for some of the less-experienced elements of the roster as well. Jorge Villafana looked the sharpest he has all tournament from his left-back position, and tested Jamaica's defense with some dangerous crosses. Darlington Nagbe was clean in possession, and found moments to drive with the ball toward Jamaica's back line.
This was supposed to be the whole point of this Gold Cup for the Americans: Try out some fringe players and see how they do. It was one that was shoved into the background to a degree once manager Bruce Arena called in six players -- four of them hugely experienced -- after the group stage. But there was another layer to Arena's experimentation. For a select few who had experienced the most recent World Cup qualifying cauldron, it was a chance to take on more responsibility. Some, like Nagbe took advantage. Others, like Kellyn Acosta, struggled with consistency.
All of this had value for Arena. Granted, the tournament broke almost perfectly for the Americans. For the most part the U.S. had a huge edge in experience and talent over opponents. A much-anticipated matchup against Mexico never materialized. There was almost a sense that winning the tournament had lost some of its juice. That changed, for the players at any rate, as the end goal came into more focus.
"It wasn't critical for us," said Arena about winning the Gold Cup. "But as we got into tournament, as we entered the quarterfinals, it was clearly the objective and we accomplished that."
Perhaps the bigger objective was using the Gold Cup as a test case for more-important World Cup qualifying games down the road. Was there a ton of movement on the U.S. depth chart? Probably not. For some players, the next chance to impress Arena won't come until January.
But this was more about Arena being reminded of what he had and in some cases what he didn't. Regardless of how well Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley and Nagbe played in this tournament, Geoff Cameron and Christian Pulisic remain almost irreplaceable. In five weeks, Arena will get to apply what he has learned to a pair of World Cup qualifiers. For all of the joy about winning the Gold Cup, those matches remain foremost in Arena's mind.
"My focus is on, are we getting better? We're getting better, we need to get much better than we are right now," he said, before adding: "I've got to find the right blend. We're a long way from qualifying for the World Cup, and that's the objective for sure. So we've got to evaluate this performance in July and the next couple of weeks I have to select a roster for our World Cup qualifying. Then we have to win some games in September and October."
If the U.S. can do precisely that, it will be a memory it won't want to forget.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.