Jamaica hold on to stun United States, advance to Gold Cup final

ATLANTA

Opportunity knocked for the United States men’s national team right up until the final moments.

They entered this CONCACAF Gold Cup with the greatest of expectations and visions of a FIFA Confederations Cup berth in 2017 dancing in their heads. They entered this semifinal against Jamaica as considerable favorites to continue their quest, but they instead suffered a shocking 2-1 defeat in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Tuesday night.  

Jamaica deserved ample credit for their grit and their guile, but the Americans must lament their own carelessness as they stew in this defeat. Darren Mattocks opened the scoring by nodding home a long throw by Kemar Lawrence just after the half-hour. Giles Barnes doubled the advantage five minutes later with a rasping free kick after U.S. keeper Brad Guzan strayed out of his penalty area as he attempted a throw.

Michael Bradley sparked the furious American response with his goal three minutes into the second half. Bradley later hit the post with a thunderous drive as the chances piled and piled, but the Americans could not overcome their own flaws by the final whistle to prevent a first home defeat to Caribbean opposition in 46 years.

The defeat leaves U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to consider the fall-out after falling short of the stated goal of winning the tournament, and to spirit his team off to the third-place game at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., on Saturday (live, FOX Sports 2, FOX Sports Go, 4 p.m. ET). Their fate now condemns them to a playoff against the winner of this tournament for that Confederations Cup berth in October, and leaves them to ponder how it all went wrong.

”Obviously the team is disappointed. The fans are disappointed,” Klinsmann said after the loss. ”We wanted to play in the big final Sunday. We had enough chances to put three or four or five in there. We didn’t do it. That’s why we lost.”

Both teams spent most of the early stages feeling out the game and proceeding with caution. There were half-chances here and there with Clint Dempsey firing over the bar, but the imprecision of the Americans ultimately emerged as the worthwhile thread from those initial exchanges. The lapses off the ball and the stray passes here and there undermined the efforts to generate the incisiveness required to break down the organized Jamaican defense.

Flickers of menace started to emerge as the Americans settled into the game after 20 minutes or so. Fabian Johnson burst forward up the left to pick the ball off Alejandro Bedoya’s foot and prompt a corner kick. Bedoya then swung a tempting ball for Aron Jóhannsson at the near post, but Jóhannsson could not turn quickly enough to fire on goal. Johnson forced a save from Jamaica’s Ryan Thompson with a stinging right-footed shot after a trademark run into the channel.

As the Americans started to find themselves a bit, they conceded the opening goal through static marking on a long throw and a stunning header by Mattocks. There were plenty of bodies inside the American penalty area, but they stood and watched as Lawrence flung his throw into the penalty area. Mattocks reacted while everyone else watched and turned his header toward the far post. The ball kissed the far post and then trickled over to the near-side netting to give the Jamaicans the lead just after the half-hour.

Barnes doubled the advantage after a careless error by Guzan. In his haste to start the American counter, Guzan lost sight of the line and threw the ball from outside the penalty area. The assistant referee caught the misstep, flagged for a foul and watched the referee whistle for a foul on the edge of the penalty area. Barnes doled out a resounding punishment with a dipping effort over the reluctant wall to give the Jamaicans a second goal inside five minutes.

The state of play stunned the Americans and left them wobbling as the first half concluded. Jóhannsson forced Thompson to parry his effort just before halftime, but it did not capture the proceedings neatly. The home side needed to regroup at the break after the double blow and devise a way back into the game.

Klinsmann resisted the option to make any immediate changes and trusted his players to sort it out themselves. They responded with a furious flurry at the start of the second half to pull a goal back within minutes.

Gyasi Zardes and Bradley combined in the attacking third to place Jóhannsson in possession on the edge of the penalty area. Thompson created his own mess by awkwardly collapsing toward the ball and fumbling the initial attempt. Clint Dempsey closed quickly to poke at the loose ball and tumbled over the pile. The ball squirted free at the top of the goal area for Bradley to poke home from close range. He immediately grabbed the ball out of the net and ran up the field with his arms waving to underscore the importance of sustaining this response.

His teammates responded in kind and, as the match stretched, the Jamaicans lost their cohesive lines and the Americans piled pressure on the rickety Thompson. Johnson thrashed a free kick toward goal in the subsequent moment and watched as the Jamaican goalkeeper failed to handle. The rebound popped up invitingly, but Jóhannsson headed over the bar from close range.

Bradley continued his quest to restore parity just before the hour. He collected on the left wing and then spotted the necessary space in front of him to maneuver toward goal. His resulting blast hit Thompson in the chest and deflected off the near post as the uncertain goalkeeper escaped once more. By this point, the Americans were well on top as the Jamaicans attempted to weather the storm. John Brooks nearly procured a fitting equalizer as he nodded Brad Evans’ long throw at the near post, but Thompson managed to corral it at the second attempt as the push continued.

Klinsmann inserted Mix Diskerud and Alan Gordon into the fray to accelerate the search. Gordon, an unused substitute during the knockout round of this tournament two years ago, immediately created an opportunity for Bradley to lash wide with a flick from a long ball. He then tested Thompson with a header only to see the Jamaican goalkeeper wrangle it once more.

All of the application and the energy waned in the end as the Americans threw longball after longball toward Gordon and makeshift forward Brooks in the end. There were no escapes on this night as the Americans were left with only misgivings with the way everything unfolded.

”My phone hasn’t stopped, as you can imagine,” Jamaica’s Barnes told reporters, savoring one of his country’s greatest victories. ”Back in Jamaica, there’s got to be a party going on. Everybody knows how we are.”

The Jamaicans want more, said their German coach, Winfried Schaefer. ”We have one more match to play,” he said. ”Bob Marley is for after the match.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report