ATLANTA — After the feel-good summer of 2014, the United States was eager to pick up another Gold Cup title and lock up its spot in the next Confederations Cup.
Instead, the Americans are dealing with one of their most shocking losses.
Giving up two first-half goals on set plays, one delivered by goalkeeper Brad Guzan's blunder on a routine throw, the U.S. fell to Jamaica 2-1 in the Gold Cup semifinals Wednesday night.
Forget another CONCACAF title.
That will go to either Mexico or Jamaica, who meet in Sunday's final at Philadelphia.
As for the Americans, it's time to figure out what went wrong after the first home loss to a Caribbean nation since a 1969 defeat to Haiti. They also face a playoff with this year's Gold Cup winner for the North and Central American and Caribbean berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
"We have no choice but to move ourselves forward," captain Michael Bradley said. "It's disappointing right now. That's normal."
A year ago, the American men reached the knockout round of the World Cup before losing to Belgium in extra time, giving the world's most popular game a bit more of a foothold in a country still dominated by football, baseball and basketball. Throw in this month's victory in the Women's World Cup, and U.S. soccer was really on a roll.
Well, before more than 70,000 in the sold-out Georgia Dome, the Americans were tripped up by an island nation of some 2.9 million — roughly half the population of metro Atlanta.
"The feeling right now is insane," said Giles Barnes, after scoring one of Jamaica's goals off a free kick.
Barnes' goal from 18 yards, a hooking blast that sailed over the American wall in the 36th minute, wouldn't have been possible if not for Guzan extending his right arm — and the ball — across the penalty line while making a throw.
"I was running down the field when I heard we had a free kick," said Barnes, who plays in Major League Soccer with Houston Dynamo. "I didn't know what was happening there."
The 34th-ranked Americans were stunned by the ruling.
"It's a call you don't see very often," Bradley said. "It's a call I wouldn't be making if I was a referee. But I'm not a referee."
Talk about disputed calls.
Mexico rallied for a 2-1 victory over Panama on two late penalty kicks by Andres Guardado — one in stoppage time, the other in extra time.
After Roman Torres headed one in off a corner early in the second half, Panama nearly pulled off the second upset of the night, despite playing a man down most of the game. Luis Tejada was sent off with a red card after a hard tackle in the 25th minute.
When American referee Mark Geiger signaled a penalty kick for Mexico with the clock winding down in the second half, ruling Torres touched the ball with his hand in front of the goal while falling to the turf contesting a loose ball, the Panamanians erupted in protest. As fans showered the field with cups and trash, the two teams nearly came to blows between their benches. The match was halted for nearly 15 minutes before Guardado finally converted the penalty.
Mexico won it after Geiger awarded another kick for Harold Cummings' takedown of Javier Orozco in the penalty area, setting up Guardado's winning goal in the 105th. The weary Panamanians couldn't come back from that, but they did muster the energy to go after Geiger at the final whistle. Security officers raced onto the field to escort the referee and his crew to the safety of the locker room.
"I ask myself why did this happen?" said Panama coach Hernan Gomez through a translator. "We were doing everything well. It is very sad. We are people of football, and I still can't believe this happened. I wonder if this really happened."
Panama will take on the U.S. in the third-place game Saturday.
The Jamaicans charged onto the field with pure joy at the end of their victory, while a small contingent of fans, clad in green and gold, saluted the Reggae Boyz. Ranked 76th in the world, they became the first Caribbean nation to reach a Gold Cup final — a sporting achievement that had nothing to with Usain Bolt.
"My phone hasn't stopped," Barnes said. "Back in Jamaica, there's got to be a party going on. Everybody knows how we are."
Darren Mattocks of the Vancouver Whitecaps scored Jamaica's first goal on a 31st-minute header directly off a throw-in. Otherwise, the Americans largely dominated, finishing with a 10-3 edge in shots on goal — including eight in the second half, as they furiously pushed the attack.
Jamaican goalkeeper Ryan Thompson, who plays for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the third-tier United Soccer League, turned aside every shot but Bradley's goal in the 48th. Even then, Thompson stopped a couple of attempts before Bradley swooped in on the loose ball to finish.
The defending champion U.S., which had played in five straight Gold Cup finals, was eliminated for the first time by a CONCACAF team en route to the title game. In the era when teams outside the region were invited, the Americans lost semifinals to Brazil in 1996 and 2003, and a quarterfinal to Colombia in 2000.
"We had enough chances to put this game away," said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, insisting there was no reason to panic. "The luck was not with us."
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