SANTA CLARA, California -- It's incredible what a difference four months can make.
This past March, the United States visited the San Francisco Bay Area in last place in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In a stirring Hexagonal performance, it registered a 6-0 victory over Honduras at Avaya Stadium in nearby San Jose, launching a nine-match unbeaten run in competitive games.
The result – in Bruce Arena’s return to qualifying sidelines after replacing Jurgen Klinsmann in November 2016 -- helped revive the Americans' quest to reach their eighth consecutive World Cup.
On Wednesday night, the U.S. returns to play by the Bay, this time for the CONCACAF Gold Cup title against Jamaica at Levi's Stadium.
"Four months ago, we were rebuilding our program, a program that was in desperate of being in position of qualifying for a World Cup and all other things," said Arena, who is aiming to become the first head coach to win the Gold Cup three times (2002, 2005). "So, I think we've made great strides over the last four months. This is a great opportunity for us to continue to make progress."
Part of that progress would be to lift the Gold Cup trophy for the sixth time, one less than record-holder Mexico.
“You work every day to try to be successful. You take on challenges that are interesting. And this has certainly been an interesting challenge,” finished Arena. “It’s been a lot of fun to try to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together.
“At this point in my coaching career this is probably the best challenge I could have undertaken.”