Brandon Vazquez grabbed an 88th-minute equalizer for the United States against Jamaica

Washington (AFP) - The United States needed an 88th-minute equalizer from substitute Brandon Vazquez to earn a 1-1 draw against Jamaica in the opening game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Saturday.

The defending champions were staring at just their second defeat in 44 games in the group stage of the competition before the Cincinnati forward pounced just six minutes after coming off the bench at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Jesus Ferreira whipped in a cross from the right flank which Jamaica defender Dexter Lembikisa was unable to clear, and Vazquez slotted home his second goal in four appearances for the national side.

The goal robbed Jamaica’s Icelandic coach Heimir Hallgrimsson of what would have been his first win since taking over in September.

The Caribbean side were the better team for large stretches of the Group A match after taking the lead in the 14th minute.

Everton winger Demarai Gray floated in a free-kick from deep on the right and Damion Lowe met it with a thundering diving header.

Jamaica had a great chance to double their lead when they were awarded a penalty, Aidan Morris having fouled Kevon Lambert in the box.

But Leon Bailey’s spot kick was superbly parried out by American ‘keeper Matt Turner and the Aston Villa winger put the rebound wide with the goal unguarded.

The US under interim coach B.J. Callaghan and with a largely second-string squad lacking their regular Europe-based starters, struggled to get a grip against a committed Jamaica.

Andre Blake, the Jamaica goalkeeper, was alert to keep out a Jordan Morris effort just before the break, and then produced a superb reaction save with his legs in the 71st minute to deny Cristian Roldan.

But then Vazquez, who was left out of the US squad for the World Cup in Qatar last year, delivered a reminder of his qualities as a traditional centre-forward and extended the Americans’ unbeaten run at home against CONCACAF opposition to 26 matches.

“The team stayed connected and fought until the end and we were able to get a goal,” said Vazquez.

“To be able to score and help the team get a point, I’m super, super happy.”

“I don’t think they had a lot of chances. I think it was just a set-piece mistake on our part but… in the end we got a point out of it,” he said.

The other two teams in Group A – Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Kitts and Nevis – face each other on Sunday.

Mexico start their Group B campaign the same day against Honduras, while Haiti are in action against guest team Qatar.