Brandon Vazquez celebrates his equalizing goal. (Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Whew! That was close, way too close for any comfort!
Late substitute Brandon Vazquez rescued the USA from a distressing and embarrassing defeat its Concacaf Gold Cup opener.
Only minutes after coming on, Vazquez connected on the equalizing goal in what turned into a 1-1 draw with Jamaica before 36,666 at Soldiers Field in Chicago on Saturday night.
Until then, Jamaica, behind the confederation’s best goalkeeper, Andre Blake, continued to frustrate the Americans seemingly at every step.
Vazquez, who replaced John Tolkin in the 83rd minute, tallied five minutes later to save what could have been an embarrassing result, only six days after securing its second successive Concacaf Nations League trophy. He slotted home a Jamaican clearance from close range.
“It means everything, being back with his team,” Vazquez said. “It means a lot and to be able to score the top the team get a point. Super, super happy.”
Now Vazquez is cap-tied to the USMNT since the Gold Cup is an official competition.
“To score a goal and to be cap-tied, it’s amazing,” he added.
The FC Cincinnati striker has scored twice in four international matches.
While not as good as a win and three points, the U.S. men’s national team will take a point and be happy about it since the favored side had an underwhelming performance.
“We grew into the match,” head coach B.J. Callaghan said. “We had an opportunities to score that we weren’t able to. But as we continued through, that’s the response that we look for is to continue to work for each other. Guys coming off the bench, making big impacts is something that we preach. That’s another example of a big moment for Brandon Vazquez. It was a big moment for the guys that came off the bench.”
Callaghan started eight players from Major League Soccer against the Jamaicans.
The team did not have much time to train together since the USA had captured the Concacaf Nations League crown last Sunday night.
And it showed, especially in the first half.
The USA got off to a nightmare start as Damion Lowe scored his third international goal off a point-blank header on a sequence that started on Demarai Gray’s long free kick in the 13th minute.
It looked like it was going to be worse in the 27th minute, when Aidan Morris called fouled Kevon Lambert in the box for a penalty kick.
Two minutes later, Leon Bailey attempted the ensuing penalty, only to be thwarted by goalkeeper Matt Turner, who dove to his left to make the save. The rebound went back to Bailey, who shanked his attempt left of the net to keep the score at 1-0, Jamaica.
“I don’t think they had a lot of chances,” Vazquez said. “I think it was just a set piece mistake.”
Turner has saved almost half of PK attempts (11 out of 24) across all competitions.
There was little doubt the first half was won by Jamaica.
The Americans’ chances were few and far between and when they took a rare shot, their attempts weren’t dangerous.
And when they did have a great opportunity, they were denied by the best goalkeeper in Concacaf, Andre Blake.
Take, for example, what transpired in the 46th minute. It appeared that Jordan Morris was about to score the equalizer, but the top-flight keeper managed to deflected the ball out of bounds with his right arm for a corner kick.
There was more frustration in the 71st minute when Cristian Roldan drilled a shot on which Blake made a reflex kick save.