Jordan Morris scored in the 88th minute as the Americans defeated Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, 2-1, before an announced 63,032 at Levi’s Stadium.
Gyasi Zardes crossed from the right side. Defender Jermaine Taylor’s header fell to the feet of unsuspecting U.S. forward Clint Dempsey. The ball caromed to Morris, who struck a 14-yard shot into the right side of the net for his team-best third goal of the 12-team tournament.
What ensued were wild celebrations on the field, on the sideline and in the stands.
“It just happened so fast. It was a reaction,” Morris said of his winning strike.
Early in the second half, the second-year pro had faltered in marking Je-Vaughn Watson, who scored the equalizer.
“I didn’t like the mistake on the corner kick,” Coach Bruce Arena said, “but to hang in there and play well and get the goal that made the difference in the game is encouraging. … Those kinds of moments are important for a player. That’s a big step he took tonight.”
The result added to Morris’s championship collection. He led Stanford to the 2015 NCAA title, won the rookie of the year award last year in helping the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup, and played a prominent role in helping the United States extend its unbeaten streak to 9-0-5 since Arena took over in December.
The late goal came on a night when Jamaica lost goalkeeper Andre Blake to a gruesome injury in the first half. He received seven stitches between the index and middle finger on his right hand.
After shuttling players in and out of the lineup for three weeks, Arena did something radical: He retained the same group that started the semifinal.
The selection of forwards Morris and Jozy Altidore left Clint Dempsey in reserve again, a role he filled magnificently in the 2-0 semifinal victory over Costa Rica with a goal and an assist.
Arena also employed the same formation: no central playmaker, Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola on the wings, and Michael Bradley and Kellyn Acosta interchanging in the heart of midfield.
Jamaica’s lineup featured seven players from MLS teams, two from the second-division USL and two from its domestic league.
The Reggae Boyz have enjoyed an international renaissance in the Gold Cup under Coach Theodore Whitmore after crashing out of the 2018 World Cup qualifying competition in the semifinal round. A 1-0 victory over Mexico on Sunday, anchored by Blake’s handiwork, earned them a second consecutive championship berth.
Jamaica began the match sitting deep and waiting to counterattack. The Americans were happy to hoard possession and attempt to solve the congested puzzle.
In the 19th minute, Blake was tested for the first time — and last time.
After blocking Altidore’s rasping drive from distance, he bravely lunged for the rebound as Acosta surged toward the ball — Acosta’s right foot smashing into Blake’s right hand.
The ball spun short of the goal line and was cleared by defender Damion Lowe. After a long delay while Blake received medical attention, Dwayne Miller entered.
The match stayed deadlocked until the 45th minute on Altidore’s hellacious goal — a 28-yard free kick that whistled over the defensive wall and beyond the soaring Miller’s reach before skimming the underside of the crossbar and splashing into the top corner of the net for his 39th international goal.
There had been some discussion about who would take the kick. “Kellyn wanted it, but seniority, man, seniority,” Altidore said.
The Americans couldn’t have felt much better about their halftime standing: a goal before intermission and Jamaica’s most important player sidelined.
But the Reggae Boyz squared the match five minutes into the second half.
Kemar Lawrence, the free-kick hero of the semifinal victory over Mexico, served a corner kick to the back side. Watson worked around Morris and met Lawrence’s ball with a five-yard volley that beat Tim Howard to the near corner.
Five minutes later, Arena turned to Dempsey in place of Acosta and gave his veteran the freedom to rove in the attacking third. The Americans turned up the heat.
Jamaica’s speed raised havoc at the other end. The open field was Jamaica’s friend.
In the 73rd minute, Miller made an excellent save on Morris’s rising 17-yarder targeting the near upper corner.
Three minutes later, Dempsey looked like he had shattered the tie — and set the U.S. career scoring record — with a stinging header of Jorge Villafaña’s cross. But Miller launched himself to the right, reaching to tip the shot off the right post.
With extra time looming, Morris redeemed himself for the earlier mistake.
“It definitely lingers around a little bit,” he said. “To be honest, I’ve never really had that in my career where I was at fault for the other team scoring. It was tough to get over, especially in such a big game. I just had to keep pushing forward and make a difference.”
Said Howard: “Redemption is a beautiful thing. You could see he was upset about it, but he had enough about him to keep going, scored a goal, and all of that stuff means nothing. It’s glory.”