Garath McCleary

Gold Cup semifinals preview: Atlanta’s the scene for USMNT, Jamaica, Panama and Mexico

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We’re down to four nations alive for the 2015 Gold Cup, and each has found a different path to the semifinals.

The United States dominated Cuba.

Mexico advanced via a questionable at best penalty call against Costa Rica.

Jamaica scored early and held on the edge Haiti.

And Panama needed a wild session of penalty kicks to off Trinidad & Tobago.

[ MORE: Cambiasso leaves Leicester City ]

Here’s what’s on tap for Wednesday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta:

United States vs. Jamaica, 6 p.m. ET

Jamaica has only beaten the United States once, but it was a recent affair. The Reggae Boyz topped the Yanks in the third round of 2014 World Cup qualification, but the U.S. won the return leg and both matches in the Hex.

The States hadn’t impressed much until their thumping of Cuba, but Jamaica has a similar road. After a fun 2-2 draw with Costa Rica, Jamaica has a trio of 1-0 wins against less than stellar opposition (Canada, El Salvador, Haiti).

It’s a step up in class for both teams, but can Giles Barnes, Garath McCleary and theReggae Boyz really shock the host nation?

Panama vs. Mexico, 9 p.m. ET

El Tri will have poor memories of this match-up from the 2013 Gold Cup, when Panama beat them in both group play and the semifinals. Since then, Mexico has won a pair of home one goal decisions, and El Tri does lead the all-time series 6W-3D-2L.

Panama has yet to win a match in regulation during this tournament, drawing all three group stage matches before the shootout win against T&T. And Mexico has looked like a different team depending on the opponent. They stomped undermanned Cuba, couldn’t finish in a 0-0 draw with Guatemala and couldn’t defend in a 4-4 draw with T&T.

Mexico will be favored, but will they emerge?

Gold Cup Today: USA takes on Cuba, Haiti vs. Jamaica — Quarterfinals

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The first day of Gold Cup quarterfinal action gets underway today in Baltimore as the USMNT looks to knock out Cuba and advance to the final four.

[ LIVE: 2015 Gold Cup updates ]

The U.S. should be pleased with their draw against Cuba, a side few expected to get out of the group stage. However, the USMNT’s play has been far from convincing so far, so a strong performance is necessary today. In the other quarterfinal, the Reggae Boyz from Jamaica will look to build on an impressive showing in the Group B with a match against Caribbean neighbors Haiti.

Below is a brief preview on what to expect from both games, while you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.

Game 19: USA vs. Cuba
When: Saturday, 5:00 p.m. ET
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
Live updates: NBCSports.com

Jurgen Klinsmann and the boys got the easiest draw in the quarterfinals, facing off against an undermanned Cuban side. Another player has defected from the Cuban team, this time midfielder Ariel Martinez, which now brings the tally up to four players who have left the team during this Gold Cup. The USMNT sent home Jozy Altidore after a hamstring injury led to a poor showing in the group stage, which puts even more pressure on Clint Dempsey to continue to score goals. The U.S. should win this game and look to build some momentum heading into the semifinals.

Game 20: Haiti vs. Jamaica
When: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
WhereM&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
Live updates: NBCSports.com

Jamaica impressed a lot of people when they won Group B with two wins and a draw. However, the Reggae Boyz must get past a pesky Haiti side that has caused some problems in the group stage. Haiti conceded just two goals in three matches, relying on their counter-attack to try and create offensive pressure. For Jamaica, Garath McCleary has scored half of the teams goals and looks in fine form as the Reggae Boyz have tallied the second-most shots on goal in the tournament.

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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

“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.

Jamaica 1-0 El Salvador: McCleary, Reggae Boyz steal one from plucky Cuscatlecos

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TORONTO, Canada — Garath McCleary’s 73rd minute goal against the run of play lifted Jamaica to a 1-0 win over pesky El Salvador in Tuesday night’s Group B match.

The underdog Los Cuscatlecos controlled the second half against a lethargic and chippy Jamaica side which already knew it had advanced to the knockout rounds, but couldn’t find a goal.

Now El Salvador has to hope for a combination of results to go in its favor; Canada must lose to Costa Rica, and Group C’s match between Cuba and Guatemala must end in a draw.

Jamaica wins Group B and will face Haiti in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Baltimore.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Both Jamaica and the Houston Dynamo may’ve taken a big hit in the first 10 minutes, as Jermaine Taylor was stretchered off after a hard collision with a sliding Andres Flores. Taylor appeared to be favoring his upper left leg.

Jamaica hit a lightning counter from Je-Vaughn Watson to Garath McCleary before the latter’s attempted cross to a streaking Darren Mattocks was cleared for a throw in the 11th minute.

It was El Salvador’s turn to try its luck moments later, but Jaime Alas popped Flores’ cross harmlessly over the goal. At the other end, Jamaica captain Rodolph Austin worked his way to the top of the 18 before missing left with a hard shot in the 18th minute.

Jamaica had to use its second sub in the 23rd minute after its diving keeper, Dwayne Miller, met a charging Pablo Punyed’s ankle with his head. It was USL goalkeeper Ryan Thompson who got the call over former MLS No. 1 overall pick Andre Blake.

The Reggae Boyz nearly capitalized on a dangerous free kick when Derby Carrillo spilled a shot onto the path of Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa, but the Jamaican could only cut a ball across the goal line from a tight angle.

Punyed, a St. John’s product who plays professionally in Iceland, was one of the stars of the show. The shifty El Salvador attacker missed on a few passes but his movement was very strong. Carrillo also played a smart match between the sticks.

Thompson made a pair of gorgeous stops on a curling 58th minute shot from Punyed and on Flores rebound attempt, as Jamaica found itself on the backfoot.

Substitute Arturo Alvarez came close to beating Thompson with a wandering dribble across and into the 18 with 20 minutes to play. His low shot had the keeper laid out, but missed the post.

And Jamaica found a goal moments later, much to the chagrin of a pro-El Salvador crowd. Mattocks laid the ball off to Joel McAnuff, whose shot was parried by Carrillo… right to McCleary for an easy tap-in.

But Mattocks needlessly took his second yellow minutes later. It was a bit soft, but the Akron product had to play smarter with a yellow. El Salvador had 10 minutes or more against 10 men.

El Salvador kept pushing, but was a step too gun shy until a pair of stoppage time corners, with Carrillo up in the mix.

Jamaica 1-0 Canada: Reggae Boyz’ stoppage-time winner a Gold Cup gut-punch for Canucks

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Canada’s already-slimming hopes of advancement in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup are now hanging by a thread following a 1-0 stoppage-time defeat at the hands of Jamaica at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Recently released Leeds United midfield Rodolph Austin broke the scoreless deadlock late on, when he headed Garath McCleary’s right-sided cross into the ground and past Canadian goalkeeper Kyriakos Stamatopoulos in the 92nd minute (below video).

Canada, who drew 0-0 with El Salvador in the Gold Cup opener on Wednesday, find themselves bottom of Group B with one point from two games, while Jamaica, who drew 2-2 with group favorites and tournament dark horse Costa Rica, have taken the group lead with four points from two games.

Considering Canada still have to face Costa Rica in Group B play, Saturday’s game was one from which Benito Floro’s Canucks really needed three points to have a strong chance of advancing to the quarterfinals. As things stand, Canada will have to beat Costa Rica, or hope that neither one of Guatemala or Cuba earn more than one point in Group C in order to advance as one of two third-place teams.

[ MORE GOLD CUP: USA 1-0 Haiti | Honduras 1-1 Panama | Mexico 6-0 Cuba | T & T 3-1 Guatemala ]

Despite holding 54 percent of the game’s possession, Canada could muster just seven shots on the day (two on target), while Jamaica were constantly dangerous on the counter attack, creating 21 chances (six on target) themselves.

Before Canada and Costa Rica do battle on Tuesday night, Jamaica will face off with El Salvador in the final round of group play. Both games will be played at BMO Field in Toronto, Canada.