The United States men's national team was surprisingly knocked out of contention for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Wednesday, falling 2-1 to Jamaica.
Instead of preparing for Sunday's final and a chance to lock up a berth at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann will have to motivate his side for a third-place game at PPL Park in Philadelphia on Saturday.
In the days leading up to the meaningless match, and in the months before the one-game play-off for the Confederations Cup spot against the winner of this Gold Cup, Klinsmann will face a massive amount of criticism for his decision-making throughout the competition.
To find where everything went wrong in Atlanta on Wednesday night, look no further than the center-back pairing of John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado. Klinsmann handed the young, inexperienced duo the reins before the Gold Cup began. Despite the flaws shown over the tournament's first four contests by both center-backs, Klinsmann kept confidence in them for the Jamaica match.
Alvarado and Brooks were caught out on Jamaica's first goal in the 31st minute as Darren Mattocks, who stands at 5'10", outjumped the 6'4" Brooks to connect with a long throw. In front of Mattocks and Brooks, Alvarado stood helplessly by himself in space, watching the ball fly over his head. Instead of trying to make a last-ditch aerial challenge after recognizing the mistake, Alvarado remained flat-footed as Mattocks scored the first goal of the contest.
Klinsmann defended his center-back pairing after the match, per ESPN's Jeff Carlisle:
While the pair didn't make any crucial errors for the rest of the match, that one big mistake on Jamaica's opener cost the Yanks on what is usually a play with a low success rate. As many have pointed out, including ESPN's Doug McIntyre, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler were supposed to be the top center-backs at the competition based off their recent experience during the last World Cup cycle.
Despite having Gonzalez on the 23-man roster and Besler in the preliminary squad ready for a knockout-round call-up, Klinsmann put all his money on Brooks and Alvarado. Although the two didn't cost the USMNT a major result in the early part of the tournament, they still committed mistakes that Besler or Gonzalez wouldn't have made.
Selecting the wrong defensive duo wasn't the only mistake Klinsmann made in the defeat at the hands of the Reggae Boyz. The USMNT boss, who to his credit has been superb with his substitutions during his reign as manager, got his tactical changes all wrong in a game that mattered much more than a friendly versus the Netherlands or Germany.
With Kyle Beckerman displaying signs of weakness in the defensive midfield against Jamaica's speed, Klinsmann should have taken off the Real Salt Lake man at half-time for Mix Diskerud. It took until the 67th minute for Klinsmann to make the swap, which was also his first switch.
Although it was the right move to make, Klinsmann had the opportunity far earlier to take out Beckerman, who was on a yellow, and give Diskerud a chance to get into a rhythm behind Michael Bradley in the middle of the pitch.
Klinsmann was also unable to recognize a momentum swing in the action around the 60th minute and counter it with an electric substitute like DeAndre Yedlin. After a sustained spell of pressure for the first 15 minutes of the second half, which produced a 48th-minute goal from Bradley, the Yanks' attack began to slow down.
If Yedlin had entered the game around the 65th minute, he would have been able to tire down the Jamaica defense and spring dangerous moves from the wing. Instead, the Tottenham Hotspur player didn't see the field until the 81st minute and failed to make an impact on the final result.
Who Yedlin replaced is also a place to criticize Klinsmann, as Alejandro Bedoya was lifted from the pitch instead of Gyasi Zardes. Bedoya was arguably the best USMNT player on Wednesday, and nine minutes of him and Yedlin opposite each other on the wing surely would have produced at least one or two quality chances for a player like Alan Gordon to connect with.
Speaking of Gordon, he came on in the 71st minute for Aron Johannsson in a move that Klinsmann had to make. Gordon gave the Yanks a strong aerial presence in the box, but he was unable to become a threat in the penalty area because of a lack of service.
What makes all these decisions worse is the players left at home for the Gold Cup. Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber would have been an ideal player to use in a match like this due to his technical ability and creative flair in the middle of the pitch. But he, like others, was not selected by Klinsmann because of the manager's preference for certain players. One could also make the argument that Perry Kitchen would have dealt with Jamaica's pace better than Beckerman.
You could go on and on naming players who would be better fits than the current ones in the squad, but the pressure is on Klinsmann to get the best out of the athletes he selected. Throughout the group stage, he failed to do this, and his shortcomings came back to bite the U.S. against Jamaica.
While it's too early to call for Klinsmann's firing, the support behind him is dwindling. Sure, a win in the third-place game would allow him to take something positive out of the Gold Cup. But now all the focus shifts toward the one-game play-off in October. If that match ends the way Wednesday's did, we could see a change at the managerial position.
Joe Tansey covers U.S. Soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.