NASHVILLE, Tenn. - United States men's national team manager Gregg Berhalter said his team's 3-1 victory over Jamaica in the semifinals of the Gold Cup was a "step in the right direction."
The U.S. advanced to Sunday's final against bitter rivals Mexico thanks to two goals from Christian Pulisic and another from Weston McKennie. The hosts had to work through an hour and 28-minute weather delay in the first half, as well as a second half resurgence from the Reggae Boyz, but were ultimately able to see the game out.
"As a coach you're always searching for something better, you're always searching for greatness, and the team is always striving for greatness," Berhalter said. "There were some good things today for sure.
"And I think we want to continue to grow. It's hard to say that was our best. I think it was a step in the right direction against a more physical team than what we've been experiencing. I think it was good to get a win for confidence."
The U.S. threatened to hammer Jamaica early on, going ahead on McKennie's ninth-minute opener and creating numerous other chances. But in the 16th minute, play was halted due to the threat of lightning. It halted the Americans' momentum and allowed Jamaica to right itself.
"I think if I had to be critical of one aspect of the game, I didn't think we come out of the break with the same intensity, and it's difficult to recreate that, the way we started because we started really sharp," Berhalter said. "I'd say we're critical of that."
Pulisic doubled the lead in the 52nd minute, pouncing on the rebound from Jordan Morris' shot. Substitute Gyasi Zardes then had a glorious chance to put the game to bed in the 57th minute when put clean through on goal by McKennie, but shot well wide. That sparked a Jamaican fightback, and the visitors pulled a goal back in the 69th minute on Shamar Nicholson's header. The Reggae Boyz then threatened a few more times through Leon Bailey, but couldn't find a way through. Pulisic eventually settled matters in the 87th minute, converting another rebound, this time from Paul Arriola's shot.
"In my opinion we lost a little bit of our legs," Berhalter said of the team's second half dip in form. "What I think is we were developing our transitions way too quickly, we didn't secure the ball, and we were going for, I think, the knockout punch too quickly. We had the opportunity with Gyasi to make it 3-0. It would have been nice, but we didn't get it.
"However I think that the team shows a lot of resiliency when it goes 2-1, and there's still a bunch of time to play, 15 minutes left to play. Now we have to find out what this group is about. Now we have to find out, are we going to concede the second one, or are we going to score the third one? That was a pivotal moment for me. I'm really disappointed that we conceded a goal in this tournament, but it's a learning moment, and looking back on it now, I'm glad we did because the guys had to dig deep."
Berhalter also praised the fans in attendance, the vast majority of whom stuck around, despite the weather delay.
"A lot of credit to the fans, they really helped us get through it," he said. "I've been in situations before where in weather delays you come out and the stadium is empty. Then it's difficult to bring that same energy. But the fans were amazing."
The next challenge for the U.S. will be Sunday's final against Mexico, and it will be Berhalter's first experience of the rivalry as a manager.
"We've already started preparing. We've already started watching them the last couple of days," he said. "I think it's a good team, quality players, I think good team concept, a lot of intensity that they play with, and they can hurt teams. Having said that, they're also vulnerable and we'll plan to be able to hurt them as well."
The day has the potential to be one to remember in the annals of U.S. soccer. The U.S. women's national team will contest the FIFA Women's World Cup final that same day against Netherlands, with the men scheduled to go up against Mexico later on.
"It's great," Berhalter said about having two finals on one day. "It's rare. It doesn't happen that often that you get two teams from the same country playing in a continental final and in a World Cup final.
"I think it's a special day, and it's a special day for U.S. Soccer. We'll get to see the women earlier in the day, and we'll be cheering them on. I know they'll be cheering us on."