Jamaica tops U.S., earns first Gold Cup final spot

Players from Jamaica (pictured) celebrate after defeating the USA in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals on July 22, 2015, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo: Mexsport)

ATLANTA – Jamaica defeated the defending champion United States 2-1 on Wednesday at the Georgia Dome to become the first Caribbean team to reach the CONCACAF Gold Cup final. 

The Reggae Boyz will face the winner of Panama-Mexico on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In a stunning semifinal encounter, the current Caribbean champion absorbed significant amounts of initial U.S. pressure to strike twice before halftime through Darren Mattocks and Giles Barnes. Michael Bradley scored the Americans’ only goal shortly after the interval, but the Jamaicans managed to hold on for a historic victory.

Mattocks, the joint-top scorer in the 2014 Caribbean Cup finals with three goals, returned from a one-match suspension to demonstrate why he merited a place in the starting lineup. In the 31st minute, a left-sided throw-in by Kemar Lawrence deep within the U.S. end found Mattocks, who was stationed eight yards from the goal. His looping header was directed off the right post and over the line to give Jamaica a 1-0 lead.

Five minutes later, Giles Barnes doubled that advantage with his second goal of the competition. Jamaica was awarded a free kick after it was ruled that goalkeeper Brad Guzan handled the ball outside the box as he was about to distribute it with a throw. On the subsequent play, Barnes hammered his shot from the right edge of the penalty area into the right side of the net.

The U.S. emerged from the break in a fiercely attacking mood, which paid immediate dividends.

After Jamaica goalkeeper Ryan Thompson could not cleanly handle an Aron Johannsson effort, Bradley raced towards the loose ball and slotted it home from seven-yards out with his left foot in the 48th minute.

Relentless attempts to level yielded the five-time champion no fruit.

Johannsson headed over the crossbar in from close range, but it was Bradley who generated the best chance in the 57th minute. The captain found himself alone 23-yards from goal on the left side. Realizing he wasn’t going to be closed down, the Toronto FC star ripped a venomous right-footed shot on goal that deflected off Thompson and then crashed off the left post.

With that danger averted, Jamaica began to settle down, regaining composure and cohesiveness. 

The USA’s last opportunity to equalize came in the 81st minute, but Thompson did well to parry away a clever chip by Clint Dempsey near the right post for a corner kick. 

Johannsson nearly put the U.S. ahead in the first half only to hit outside netting with a sliding poke once he saw Thompson have difficulty dealing with an awkward back pass. Thompson also produced a magical outstretched save to deny Fabian Johnson’s curling effort aimed at the right post just before 30 minutes had elapsed. 

The loss means that the U.S. will miss out on the final for the first time since 2003, sending it into the match for third place on Saturday at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.