Underdog of the underdogs: USL goalkeeper steps in to lead Jamaica to Gold Cup group title

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TORONTO, Canada — Jamaica head coach Winfried Schafer snaps his fingers sharply to emphasize his point, that going to his backup keeper isn’t a drop-off.

With starter Dwayne Miller stretchered off and sent to the hospital — an emotional Schafer said he received a photo of his keeper in a neck brace — Schafer had to use his second sub inside of 20 minutes to bring on cold goalkeeper Ryan Thompson.

He off the three total caps since 2004, of the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds, of the nine club appearances since 2012, of the “third professional athlete Ryan Thompson to show up in a Google search”… yes that Ryan Thompson.

[ RECAP: Jamaica 1-0 El Salvador ]

Fortunately for Jamaica, that wasn’t a problem. Reggae Boyz captain Rodolph Austin may’ve been given the Man of the Match award, but Thompson’s timely saves and calm in the face of a relentless, desperate and frankly better El Salvador made the difference.

“It’s unfortunate under the circumstances in which I get to go on and play,” Thompson said. “I’m just happy that I get to go out there and do my job, make saves, keep my team in the game.”

Goal scorer Garath McCleary called his side the “underdogs” in Group B. That’s a bit of a stretch, but Jamaica earned the group title with its 1-0 win over El Salvador, and now Thompson looks set for the driver’s seat. Schafer said his keepers are so close in talent that he lets his goalkeeper coach decide who starts based on form.

And Thompson looks good, finally getting some decent playing time with Pittsburgh after going from the U.S. fourth tier to the Irish top flight, back to the PDL and then to Sweden. After a season in the NASL, Thompson’s finally settled in Pennsylvania, and earned his playing time with Jamaica over 2014 MLS No. 1 overall draft pick Andre Blake.

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“It’s funny cause after I left from the PDL, I went straight to the Shamrock Rovers, played in the Champions League, so I’ve had the experience over the years playing at the high level,” he said. “I’m just happy I’m doing it on U.S. soil. They haven’t really seen much of me playing, but I’m capable of doing good things and I’m happy that I have the stage now to show it.”

The veteran is also of the belief that Riverhounds fans will stand behind him if the Reggae Boyz beat Haiti and end up meeting the U.S. in the Gold Cup semifinals.

“The Steel Army man, they’re loyal people and they support me a lot,” Thompson said. “I’m sure they’ll still have my back.”

Jamaica faces Haiti on Saturday in Baltimore.