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Hoppe the hero, Robinson the wall: USMNT youngsters find a way to pass difficult Jamaica test

8:00 AM EDT 7/26/21
USMNT Jamaica celebrate Gold Cup
One goal was all it took as the U.S. controlled the game, overcame adversity and, ultimately, moved into the Gold Cup semifinals

As the clock continued to tick down towards the end of a scrappy Gold Cup quarterfinal, it became abundantly clear that either the U.S. men's national team or Jamaica would need a hero.

It was the U.S. that found that hero in Matthew Hoppe, whose goal helped his team survive a difficult test to live to fight another day

The USMNT did not earn any style points in Sunday's 1-0 win, but that will not matter too much to Gregg Berhalter.

Just as his young team did in the group stage, the U.S. did exactly what they needed to do to survive as another of the team's newcomers stepped up when called upon.

On this day, it was Hoppe that sealed the win with a fantastic headed finish inside the game's final 10 minutes. The goal came just as the young Schalke star was set to be a substituted, and just as the U.S. were starting to stare down the possibility of extra-time against a very tough Jamaica team.

In other words, Hoppe's strike was the perfect goal at the perfect time.

"As the clock keeps going up, obviously you get a little bit more nervous and you just have to be composed," said veteran midfielder Sebastian Lletget. "It's a young group and we've never really been in this situation before, but what better way to learn that than just diving into it?

"We're really, really happy with how this group performed and just the mentality going into it because I think that's what's going to win championships: the mentality and the physicality and just being willing to do the dirty work."

The U.S. needed to do plenty of dirty work against Jamaica, a team that does not get enough credit for just how good they are. There are no easy games in the Gold Cup, even if Mexico made their demolition of Honduras look that way, and this game once again pushed the U.S. to the limit.

Berhalter's trust in his young players was once again on display as the USMNT fielded the second-youngest lineup for a knockout game in the team's history. The only one younger? The starting XI that Berhalter selected for last months' Concacaf Nations League semifinal against Honduras.

Facing off with an athletic team with veteran players and a truly world-class goalkeeper in Andre Blake, the U.S. had to face moments of adversity on Sunday, while also finding moments to go forward.

Blake pushed away a few of the USMNT's chances, while U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner got his hands to a few others and the teams, both of them, kept on pushing.

In the end, it was the U.S.who saw their perseverance rewarded, and the numbers say that it was earned.

Despite the narrative that swept through social media saying they struggled, the U.S. finished with 67 per cent of the possession while Jamaica completed just over 60% of their passes.

And, as impressive as Hoppe's goal was, he was not the only U.S. star to step up in what was the biggest test of many of these players' young careers, with Miles Robinson looking every bit like a player that can push for minutes come World Cup qualifiers.

With the U.S. now playing without leader and captain Walker Zimmerman due to a tournament-ending injury, Robinson was forced into several difficult situations on Sunday. He was unfazed by all of them, as he showed several times why he is quite possibly the most capable one-on-one defender in the pool.

"Miles can recover on anything," Berhalter said. "It's really impressive how he recovers. It gives us the confidence to say, 'Okay, we know we're playing against an athletic team, we know we're playing against a team with speed but we can handle it because of the players we have in the back'."

Having taken down a familiar foe in Jamaica - a team that will become even more familiar throughout World Cup qualifying - the U.S. will now take on a newcomer in the semifinal.

Thursday night's opponent will be Qatar, who have been invited as a guest team in their efforts to prepare for the World Cup next summer.

Several players that take the field for the U.S. for the semifinal, Hoppe and Robinson included, will have hopes of being there as they now move on to what they hope will be their penultimate game of the Gold Cup.