ATLANTA — The United States had everything on its side. History. A raucous home crowd. And, supposedly, the better team.
None of it prevented Jamaica from handing the Americans their biggest upset defeat.
The Reggae Boyz stunned the U.S. with a pair of first-half goals, one off a blunder by goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and held on for a 2-1 victory in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals Wednesday night.
Instead of heading on to an expected berth in Sunday’s title game at Philadelphia, the Americans will play a day earlier for third place following their first home loss to a Caribbean nation since a 1969 defeat to Haiti.
“Obviously the team is disappointed. The fans are disappointed,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We wanted to play in the big final Sunday.”
Darren Mattocks, who plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer, put Jamaica ahead with a 31st-minute header directly off a throw-in. Houston Dynamo’s Giles Barnes followed five minutes later with a goal on an 18-yard free kick after Guzan was caught outside the penalty area on a routine throw.
Other than those two set plays, the Americans largely dominated. They finished with a 10-3 edge in shots on goal — including eight in the second half, as they furiously charged at Jamaican goalkeeper Ryan Thompson, who plays for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the third-tier United Soccer League.
Thompson was up to the task, turning aside every shot but Michael Bradley’s goal in the 48th minute.
“My phone hasn’t stopped, as you can imagine,” said Barnes, 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.”
At the final whistle, the Jamaicans charged onto the field, hugging and waving their flag while a small contingent of fans, clad in green and gold, saluted their underdog team. This was a glorious moment for an island nation of about 2.9 million people, one that had nothing to do with Olympic champion Usain Bolt. A team ranked 76th in the world became the first Caribbean nation to reach a Gold Cup final and will face Mexico, 2-1 winner over Panama in the wild second semifinal.
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.”
The 34th-ranked Americans, who had played in five straight Gold Cup finals and were the defending champion, will face the loser of Wednesday’s second semifinal in the third-place game. They also must meet the Gold Cup winner in a playoff for the North and Central American and Caribbean berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
It marked the first time the U.S. was eliminated by a CONCACAF team en route to the Gold Cup final. In the era when teams outside the region were invited guests, the Americans lost semifinals to Brazil in 1996 and 2003, and a quarterfinal to Colombia in 2000.
In the early going, it looked as though the Americans might romp to another impressive win after a 6-0 blowout of Cuba in the quarterfinals. In their first game in Atlanta in 38 years, they had most of the chances but kept sending good looks wide or over the net.
Suddenly, Jamaica jumped ahead. Kemar Lawrence got everything on a long throw-in, delivering it perfectly into the penalty area. Mattocks, with his back to the goal and sandwiched between defenders Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks, leaped up for a dazzling header that caught the underside of the crossbar, out of a leaping Guzan’s reach, and dropped beyond the goal line. Guzan had taken a step off his line and scrambled back for the ball, but it was too late. He slammed it in disgust as the Jamaicans celebrated.
The U.S. goalkeeper was really steaming minutes later, when his huge mistake set up Jamaica for a commanding lead.
On a routine throw downfield from the edge of the penalty area, Guzan’s right arm went over the line when he let go of the ball. That gave the Jamaica a dangerous free kick and Barnes hooked a shot over the defensive wall and into the right side of net, while Guzan was covering the opposite side.
After the goal, Guzan screamed at the linesman who made the call, but the replay showed it was the proper one.
“He made the decision 2 or 3 yards behind me,” Guzan said. “Those decisions, they sometimes don’t go in your favor. But you’ve still got the free kick. You’ve got to defend it. He hit it well.”
Bradley added, “It’s a call you don’t see very often. It’s a call I wouldn’t be making if I was a referee. But I’m not a referee.”
The Americans fought back. Early in the second, Aron Johannsson ripped a shot that was smothered by Thompson, but he couldn’t hang on to the ball. Dempsey tried unsuccessfully to poke it under the sprawled-out keeper, and Bradley swooped in on the third whack for the goal that sent the sell-out Georgia Dome crowd of some 68,000 into a frenzy.
Bradley nearly evened it in the 57th, when his shot one-hopped off Thompson’s chest, caught the near post and deflected away.
The Americans had a few more good chances the rest of the way, but none that came close.
Now, they’ve got to deal with a shocking loss.
“We had enough chances to put three or four or five in there,” Klinsmann said. “We didn’t do it. That’s why we lost.”