FS1 will broadcast the Gold Cup final between the U.S. and Jamaica from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara with coverage beginning at 9 PM Eastern and kickoff expected at about 9:45.
To preview the match and also discuss Video Assistant Refereeing, or VAR— which was debuted at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia earlier this summer and will make its MLS debut on August 5th — we were joined for a really fun and insightful interview by Fox Sports’ Rob Stone, John Strong and Alexi Lalas.
The trio piled into the back of a Toyota Camry rental and managed to take a mid-podcast selfie while eating soup, apparently Italian Wedding.
— Rob Stone (@RobStoneONFOX) July 25, 2017
The full interview can be found below, but we’ll give some highlights under the audio file.
The United States’ 2-0 semifinal win over Costa Rica “was the best we’ve seen from the U.S. this tournament, which is sort of the point,” Strong said. The group stage in the U.S. during the summer is usually about dealing with the long travel, heat and humidity in addition to the play on the pitch, Strong said. He also pointed out that the U.S. tried out a lot of younger players in the group stage, similar to a January USMNT camp, and that it was only natural for the team’s play to improve once U.S. head coach Bruce Arena brought in the “A team” into Gold Cup play.
Jamaica stunned Mexico in the semifinals 1-0 on a spectacular free kick goal by Kemar Lawrence in the 88th minute, and Stone was criticized on Twitter after posting a video of his live reaction to the goal.
— Rob Stone (@RobStoneONFOX) July 24, 2017
“I’m slightly taken aback that there was even any confusion about that,” Stone said. “I mean we are sitting in this sterile studio watching soccer, and in that state of mind we’re analyzing it in our role, but we’re also fans. And deep down in our DNA, we’re fans of soccer. We got excited over a free kick goal. If that was Mexico striking it, we would’ve had the same reaction. If that was Sweden v Bulgaria we would’ve been screaming because it was a great free kick that turned out to be a game winner in the late stages of a semifinal of a tournament. So for some people to try to read into that, that we’re anti-Mexico and cheering on Jamaica because that benefits the U.S. is a bunch of malarkey.”
As for Wednesday’s match, key players for Strong and Lalas are goalie Tim Howard, midfielder Darlington Nagbe, and Clint Dempsey, who came off the bench in the semis to set up Jozy Altidore’s eventual game winner and score on a free kick of his own. Strong said that the keys for the U.S. will be keeping up the intensity, pressure and tempo like they showed against Costa Rica. Stone will have a “nervous eye” on the defense against the speed and physicality of the Jamaicans.
Lalas expects the U.S. to win, but in a close match where the Americans should not take the Jamaicans lightly.
“I think when the U.S. looks at this opponent, this opponent isn’t gonna fear them,” he said. “From a physical perspective, they can keep up and actually better the U.S. in different moments
As for VAR, Stone was happy that someone let the Fox crew talk about it.
“We’re just happy that somebody has given us the forum to talk about the greatest invention in soccer since the magic spray, VAR,” he said. “VAR is here to stay and it’s not going anywhere.”
The trio brought in a special guest, Dr. Joe Machnik, FIFA/CONCACAF match commissioner and Fox rules analyst, to explain VAR. The group then discussed what VAR means for MLS and world soccer going forward, how it impacts the pace of play, how it’ll affect players on the field and Strong delved into the way soccer games are broadcast.
VAR could run smoothly, but if the reviews are as long as a hydration break then it could be a problem, Machnik said. Player celebrations were already impacted in the Confederations cup, per Lalas, with players looking to the referees after goals to see if it would be confirmed. That’s going to be the new normal going forward, Lalas said.
VAR is going to be the subject of intense discussion and scrutiny over the coming weeks and months, as the system gets fine-tuned before being implemented in next year’s World Cup in Russia.