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Previewing the United States vs Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinals

USA vs Jamaica Gold Cup Logos
It is considered bad form to compare Men’s and Women’s teams too often. Female athletes around the world must deal with “smarmy announcer syndrome” in which a journalist appears to rank “she’s married to so-and-so from the Swiss league” above her own accomplishments.

Beyond that, it would be worse than tacky to constantly weigh the United States Men’s and Women’s National Soccer Teams against each other because they are on disparate levels. The USWNT is dominant at the World Cup and an acknowledged pre-tourney favorite in almost every event ever. The USMNT is a FIFA also-ran that struggles for recognition and respect on the world stage.

Yet there are uncanny similarities in each squad’s path to success in the ongoing Women’s World Cup and CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments.

Despite USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter’s use of a “striker” at the front of the Yanks’ lineup, forward is still the weakest roster spot for the United States judging by the number of midfielders and defenders who have gotten noticed by European clubs vs the MLS-level talent on the forward lines. The U.S. women are star-studded at forward with Alex Morgan and other legendary names patrolling the pitch in skipper Jill Ellis’ 4-4-3 formation.

But each team’s attack is being ignited by career midfielders.

Megan Rapinoe was a 1-woman wrecking crew against France in the FIFA semifinals last week, scoring both goals in a win over the hosts. Meanwhile, Berhalter’s squad would be in a sorry state if it were not for Christian Pulisic, a 20-year-old phenom who is likely to appear in Chelsea F.C.’s starting lineup in Premier League matches before all is said and done.

A hundred cynical sports writers – trained by years of watching the USMNT let down supporters – were ready to write the Yankee men off yet again when the squad appeared to be impotent on the attack against Curaçao in the CONCACAF quarterfinals on Sunday.

Once again, a midfielder took center stage – helping the United States advance to Wednesday’s prime-time Gold Cup semifinal against pesky Jamaica.

The Stars & Stripes Keep Advancing…By Hook or Crook

I knew that (even though the 4th of July is almost upon us) it was unlikely that fireworks would erupt at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. Even though Curaçao was a gigantic Las Vegas and London underdog, and the long-shots were lining-up with few athletes pulled from any kind of “major” soccer league in Europe or the Americas.

For one thing, much of the Curaçao backline and midfield plies its professional trade in the Eredivisie, the Dutch football league from which 2018-19 Champions League sensation Ajax sprang. That’s nothing to sniff at. Perhaps state-side journalists think of club soccer as “The Premier League and everyone else,” mimicking the myth that the NHL, NBA and NFL employ 100% of the best players in the world. American handicappers must wrap their brains around a soccer universe in which there are literally dozens of top-flight leagues that can compete with each other on an elite level – and find a pipeline of talent even in small North American nations.

Second, this isn’t the same kind of USMNT as was coached by Bruce Arena. Berhalter’s squad plays a more consistent, pragmatic brand of football than the Yankee teams we used to watch pathetically try to play out from the back against Brazil or Argentina. A solid defending unit can simply win a match 1-0 or 2-0 and move on. There’s no need to gnash teeth about whether or not a game was lopsided.

To be fair – Sunday’s fixture was anything but 1-sided. Curaçao controlled the football for a thin majority of minutes and managed 15 shot attempts and 6 corner kicks in front of American keeper and Manchester City prospect Zack Steffen.

Pulisic would not be denied regardless, piercing the opposing “Dutch” backline with impunity in the early-going and setting up fellow midfielder Weston McKinnie for the winner later in the 1st half.

It turned into the kind of victory that impresses casual onlookers more than hardcore supporters and beat writers. To the occasional fan, it would appear that the United States fought-off a passionate effort from an underrated side fighting for its life in the Gold Cup medal round. To a die-hard USMNT follower, the match was (judging by the post-game reaction) a sign of regression from the Yanks.

Sometimes the casual fan’s POV is more accurate.

Pundits appear to be out for blood, saying that a “sorry” USA performance was “bailed out” by Pulisic, even though he didn’t play in goal or on the backline in the clean-sheet triumph. And while the youngster’s beautiful cross was a key to the winning play, McKinnie’s winning header was anything but a tap-in “gimme” goal.

On a broad level, it’s a bad deal for the United States soccer media to overrate the Yanks and underrate opponents with top-level club players dotting the backline. Moaning and groaning about clean-sheet wins that leave the team 2 wins away from a successful title defense is something that America will need to outgrow if the Men’s team is ever going to match expectations on the world stage.

Tough challenges from heavy underdogs is something that even elite national squads must often face during any championship run. Just look at the Brazil vs Paraguay outcome in the Copa América quarterfinals last Thursday. Seleção supporters are mostly just glad to have won on penalties.

But for gamblers who don’t mind cheering for the Stars & Stripes, the media’s heavily-critical treatment of the USMNT after Sunday’s match could be a real blessing.

United States vs Jamaica: Comparing the Online Betting Odds

It’s a handicapper’s dream to find a gap between the coverage of a tournament and the reality of the competition at hand. If a thousand bettors at BetOnline or MyBookie read the articles proclaiming how god-awful the USMNT supposedly was while winning its quarterfinal, then the odds at soccer gambling sites will be affected as speculators are moved to pass on the Yanks’ moneyline in the semifinals.

Is the media-slant syndrome bearing itself out in the market numbers this time? Let’s look and find out.

The USA is a (-204) moneyline pick to beat Jamaica on Wednesday at BetOnline. At a glance those odds seem a little out-of-whack with a tight goal spread that has the Yanks favored (-1) with a (+100) payoff on a cover ATS. But of course, another 1-goal win won’t pay off for bettors who take the bait – it would simply “push” and result in a returned wager, while an American semifinal victory on penalty kicks would pay off on the underdog side of the market.

At MyBookie the Stars & Stripes is also a (-1) wager, but the bookmakers there seem more convinced that the Americans could win by a lot – putting (-116) odds on the favorites ATS. Or, perhaps the sportsbook has taken a healthy share of USA against-the-spread bets compared to BetOnline.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the negative ESPN editorials and predictable gloom-and-doom on social media have contributed to a rush of wagers on Jamaica-to-cover ATS at the latter book.

At the same time, however, MyBookie has cast the Jamaicans as a (+580) underdog for the fixture in Nashville on Wednesday night.

Is that a well-priced betting market on a squad that beat Berhalter’s team in the most recent meeting between the sides?

Handicapping Jamaica vs the Defending Champs

A glance at the Jamaica National Team roster betrays that the squad is littered with less elite club talent than the team the United States just beat on Sunday. Jamaican captain Andre Blake is a goalkeeper from the Philadelphia Union of the MLS, and manager Theodore Whitmore doesn’t have even so much as an all-MLS level lineup across the backline.

For instance, defender Kevon Lambert plays on a 2nd-tier club team in Arizona, while green-horn reserve back Jamoi Topey plays for Bethlehem Steel…the “Backbone of America” according to Mad Men.

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It might be responsible for much of New York City, but Bethlehem Steel is not responsible for an MLS team, since Topey’s club is also 2nd tier.

Yet what the Jamaicans may lack in elite talent, they’ve been making up in teamwork and resolve. You can try to write-off the side’s 1-0 win over the Americans back in June since Pulisic and other standouts didn’t play in the match, but Steffen was between the posts – so we know Berhalter intended to win the match and that the Yanks weren’t exactly phoning it in.

Jamaica has continued to impress in the 2019 Gold Cup. Playing what appeared to be a cautious 4-4-3 against an even-more conservative formation from Honduras on Matchday 1, the “Reggae Boyz” quickly went into attack mode, feeding the unheralded forward Dever Orgill (not to be confused with Divock Origi of Liverpool Football Club) for 2 goals in the opening 45+ minutes.

Jamaica eventually won a fast-and-furious match 3-2.

Since then, the attack has slowed down a little against determined foes. The Reggae Boyz offense has been closer to “Little Darling Celia” than “Jammin’” in the 3 Gold Cup matches hence, needing a penalty kick goal from Darren Mattocks of FC Cincinnati to prevail over a sketchy Panamanian backline in a weekend quarterfinal.

Prediction and Best Bet on USA-Jamaica in Nashville

Jamaica has been hit with injury problems and must work to compensate for the B-grade backline. That means that there is almost no chance that the underdogs will overwhelm Steffen and the U.S. backline. The match is likely to be a tense, anxious one with both sides of supporters waiting for the all-important 1st goal of the night to give their team a potentially-crushing advantage in the 2nd half.

Does that mean that the Under (2 ½) is the best wager?

Maybe under (excuse the pun) normal circumstances, yes indeed. But take a look at how online bookmakers are treating an event that will involve more sweat than glory – BetOnline is going with a (2, 2 ½) Asian Handicap for the Over/Under market while MyBookie is giving (2 ¼) with a (-116) payoff on the Under winner.

Those aren’t great odds. You shouldn’t have to sit in front of the TV and pray for a scoreless draw…and only get a partial on-the-dollar payout if a slow-paced goalkeeper’s duel occurs.

Instead, I’m liking the Americans ATS at BetOnline…where bettors have been reading too much ESPN.com and have forgotten that Christian Pulisic will be the finest athlete on the pitch for either side yet again in the semifinal.

ODDS+100

MY PICK:
Take the Stars & Stripes to cover (-1) vs Jamaica at BetOnline.