For the first time in six editions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the United States men's national team will not appear in the final. An unexpected 2-1 loss in Wednesday's semifinals to Jamaica, which had styled itself as David facing the regional Goliath, saw to it that the Yanks will miss their first title game since 2003 of this biennial tournament.
In 22 previous matchups, the Reggae Boyz had beaten the United States just once, even if many of the games were closely fought. This time around, the Americans were unable to recover from a two-goal deficit before halftime.
In truth, they were unlucky to lose this game. It was arguably their best game of the tournament – the non-contest with Cuba, a 6-0 walkover, in the quarterfinals excepted. Save for a single lapse, the defense was on point. And while distribution in midfield was still problematic, the Americans were finally dynamic and threatening up front, piecing together the bulk of their best attacks of the month on this lone night.
That their best game should become their only loss of the tournament was a searing bit of irony.
Jamaica, as expected, was well organized, keeping its banks condensed and the spaces so tight early on that the U.S. forwards were probably gasping for oxygen – not to mention required to drop off too far off the front line to see any of the ball. And the islanders moved forward as a carefully orchestrated collective, attempting to answer the USA's many short jabs and barrages of punches with big haymakers.
After struggling to get much going, the Americans forged a flurry of big chances after the 20-minute mark. Fabian Johnson overlapped well from left back but saw a defender deal with his cross from deep in the box. Then Alejandro Bedoya found Aron Johannsson on a near-post run, but he too was foiled.
Jamaica goalkeeper Ryan Thompson tried to dribble around Johannsson on a back-pass deep in his box. The Icelandic-American stabbed at the ball between the goalie's feet and nearly redirected it into the goal. Thompson then redeemed himself and denied a splendid curling shot from Johnson with a sprawling save.
And that's when Jamaica finally landed its counter-punches. In the 31st minute, Darren Mattocks snuck in front of his marker, John Brooks, on a long Kemar Lawrence throw-in. He then rose higher than Brooks and sent a backwards header arcing over goalkeeper Brad Guzan. It dinked off the top of the far post, bounced back across goal and nicked low off the other post and in. Two fortuitous bounces and a Jamaican lead that they would soon double.
In the 36th minute, Guzan was whistled for throwing the ball upfield from just outside of his box. It was a rare yet correct call, as his arm did indeed stray over the line as he delivered the ball. Giles Barnes swung the free kick into the net from a difficult spot to make it 2-0 Jamaica.
From the looks of it, the Yanks would be staging a furious comeback in the second half. Not three minutes after the break, Johannsson swiveled at the top of the box and zipped a low shot at Thompson, who bobbled the ball. Dempsey went in hard for the rebound. The ensuing collision sent the ball rolling free to Bradley, who slid it home with his left foot to cut the deficit in half.
But after they were initially overrun, the Jamaicans ably set about smothering the game. They slowed the pace and dropped deeper, considerably limiting the Americans' ability to run at them and thread balls through the seams.
There were still chances for the USA. Johannsson nodded a bouncing ball just over on a Johnson free kick. Bradley's unexpected shot swerved off Thompson's chest and pinged off the near post. Brooks rammed a header right at Thompson. Bradley, playing like a man possessed, had a few more dangerous attempts. And Alan Gordon had a look as well.
The equalizer, however, never came.
And so the United States fell two wins short of its stated objective: lifting a sixth Gold Cup. After Saturday's destruction of a fetid Cuba, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had declared his charges "the team to beat" in this tournament.
On Wednesday, the team to beat was beaten.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.