ATLANTA — The U.S. men’s national team hadn’t played in Atlanta for 38 years until Wednesday, and it might want to wait that long to come here again after suffering a stunning 2–1 defeat to Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.
First-half goals by Darren Mattocks (with a header off a throw-in) and Giles Barnes (on a blistering free kick) silenced most of the crowd at the Georgia Dome and had the Jamaicans deservedly up 2–0 at halftime. Michael Bradley’s return salvo three minutes into the second half made it a game, but the U.S. couldn’t find a way to break through for the equalizer.
The U.S. will now play in the Gold Cup third-place game on Saturday in Chester, Pa., against the loser of the Mexico-Panama semifinal. More importantly, the loss means the U.S. will have to play the winner of this Gold Cup in a one-game playoff for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. That game is likely to take place on October 13.
Here are my three quick thoughts on the game:
It’s the biggest upset loss ever by the U.S. men’s national team
I can’t find one that’s bigger than this. The U.S. had only lost one time in its history to Jamaica, which was ranked No. 76 in the FIFA world rankings entering the game. Not only that, but the U.S. was playing on home soil in an elimination game of the continental championship tournament. What’s more, it’s the first time the U.S. has lost to a Caribbean team on home soil since a 1–0 loss to Haiti in 1969. The Jamaicans now become the first Caribbean team ever to reach the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Jamaica deserved to win
The Jamaicans outplayed the U.S. in the first half as they built their lead, and their defending in the second half was impressive (minus the shakiness of goalkeeper Ryan Thompson) as the U.S. trained all its attacking guns on the visitors. Bradley’s goal was the first one conceded by Jamaica since the first half of the first game of the Gold Cup. Meanwhile, the U.S. attack was disjointed for much of the game, especially in the first half, and the central defense tandem of John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado struggled again. Brooks was beaten to the ball by Mattocks on the first Jamaican goal, and keeper Brad Guzan gave away the free kick that led to Barnes’s goal with a throw that left his hand outside the penalty box.
Jurgen Klinsmann deserves heat for this loss
Aside from the 6–0 laugher in the quarterfinals against Cuba, this U.S. team lacked chemistry for most of these Gold Cup games. Klinsmann said before the tournament that the most important thing was to win it, and he was going to sacrifice player development to attain that goal. But were Alvarado and Brooks really the right combination if it was important to win at all costs? What’s more, Klinsmann’s substitution choices in this game were questionable to say the least. DeAndre Yedlin could have come into the game much earlier than as the third sub, and using the first sub on Mix Diskerud for Kyle Beckerman didn’t make a lot of sense either.
In the end, Klinsmann’s performance in 2015 will be measured on whether the U.S. qualifies for the Confederations Cup, and his team now has one mulligan to do that in October. If that doesn’t happen, there will be some serious questions about Klinsmann’s job future.