What had seemed preordained all along turned into the incomprehensible Wednesday.
Jamaica, which had won once in 22 run-ins with the U.S. national team going into the Gold Cup semifinals, foiled the championship matchup that, by almost unanimous consent, could have been carved in granite.
The 2-1 stunner at the Georgia Dome doused a soccer euphoria in the U.S. sparked by the recent women’s World Cup crown. It also renewed questions about Coach Juergen Klinsmann’s personnel decisions.
Now it’s the Sunday championship game in Philadelphia for the Reggae Boyz, who will face Mexico, a 2-1 winner over Panama in overtime.
The U.S will face Panama in the match Saturday in Philadelphia.
Mexico and the U.S. share all but one of the dozen Cup titles and were substantial co-favorites to duel for this one.
“We have no divine right to be in the finals,” said U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley.
The Americans floated in on the tailwind of a quarterfinal pounding of Cuba, which played without five apparent defectors. For Jamaica, there were no defectors and too few defects for the U.S. to capitalize on.
Ever the tinkerer, Klinsmann tweaked the lineup, which resulted in two lightly experienced players as centerbacks, and the formation.
Afterward, the coach dismissed any notion he is guided too much by player evaluation for the next World Cup qualifying and not enough by results in lesser events such as the Gold Cup.
“It was a very, very good performance,” said Klinsmann. “I cannot complain about the performance of the team.”
Bradley was less complimentary.
“You knew going in this was going to be hard,” he said. “Going down, 2-0, the way we did makes a hard game that much harder.”
A fusillade of shots — 10 on goal, 10 more off target — severely tested the often shaky Jamaica goalkeeper Ryan Thompson. He nearly gave away a goal on a careless clearing attempt Aron Johannsson virtually swiped off his foot. A harsh angle on the shot spared Thompson, and he was subsequently beaten just once.
“We created a ton of chances,” U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “It just wasn’t to be.”
In the 31st minute, Kemar Lawrence air-mailed a lengthy throw-in to Darren Mattocks, whose header nicked the post above Guzan to barely get in goal.
Five minutes later, Giles Barnes’ pinpoint direct free kick from just outside the box was a hopeless cause for Guzan. It was his handball violation that set up the shot.
“We lost this game with the two set pieces that we conceded,” said Klinsmann. “It’s as simple as that.”
Bradley came through for the U.S. in the third minute of the second half. Thompson had turned away a blast from Johannsson but left the ball available for a rebound. As Clint Dempsey disrupted the scene, Bradley swept in for a left-footer.
However, the Jamaicans’ counter-attack generated no further goals, and they kept the ball on the safer side of the field.
For the throngs of Mexico’s supporters who swelled the crowd to a sellout of 68,000, the upset was a warm-up act.
Their team also had no easy time, even with the red-card expulsion of Panama’s Luis Tejada in the 25th minute. He had accounted for half of his team’s four tournament goals.
Playing 11 on 10, Mexico waited until one minute before regulation time expired to score. Andres Guardado’s penalty kick was the payoff to a handball infraction by Roman Torres, who had struck for underdog Panama in the 57th minute.
Another penalty kick by Guardado, in the 14th minute of overtime, prevented the unlikeliest of faceoffs in the Cup finals.
Tierney is a Times correspondent.