Continuing our look back at previous Palace internationals, today we reflect on Jamaica's run to the final of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup when the Eagles' Adrian Mariappa was in the thick of the action. Here he recalls their famous semi-final shock defeat of the USA.
It was the biggest underdog story in Jamaican sport since Cool Runnings. The Reggae Boyz, aiming to be the first Caribbean side to the reach the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, were seen by many as just another hurdle for the USA to easily leap over on their way to claiming the trophy on home soil; after all the stars and stripes hadn’t lost at home to a side from the tropical island region since 1969.
Palace’s Adrian Mariappa was in the heart of defence that night in Atlanta. “We’d surprised everyone by getting to the semis, but in the build-up it was all about how the USA were going to beat us,” he told the Palace matchday programme in 2015.
“They were hosts so we were going up against the favourites having never beaten them at their home ground, so no-one gave us a chance to win apart from ourselves. We knew the quality of players we had in the changing room so we had no fear, and a gameplan which was to press really high and use our pace.”
That worked a treat for Mariappa’s men, who raced into a two-goal lead thanks to Darren Mattocks’ header and a fine free-kick from Giles Barnes, stunning Jurgen Klinsmann’s team and the majority of the 70,000 fans packed into the Georgia Dome.
Michael Bradley pulled a goal back for the States just two minutes after the restart, and then the Americans laid seize to the Jamaican goal. However, shot-stopper Ryan Thompson, who played for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the USA’s third-tier, somehow was able to repel any threat and ride his luck to incredibly send the Reggae Boyz into the final.
Reflecting on the game, Mariappa, who made 49 appearances for Palace between 2013 and 2016, said: “We came in 2-0 up but conceded a goal quite quickly after half-time, and after that it was backs against the wall stuff. The crowd were cheering for the USA; the stadium holds 70,000 people and we had about 50 fans there! They just kept coming at us, wave after wave, so the way we defended was a real credit to everyone involved.
“When the final whistle went our players were just running around not really knowing where to turn. We all grabbed flags and ran to our fans. I don’t think too many people shook hands with the USA players because we didn’t feel that we were shown any respect going into the game - there was loads of negative stuff in the build-up but it only got us fired up even more. After that game we proved that we can match any team in our confederation.”
Sadly for Jamaica, they were beaten in the final 3-1 by Mexico, but it was a tournament that Mariappa recalls fondly for restoring pride back into his nation’s football team.
“The team were like family and we really bonded during the tournament,” he said. “Every day we were getting up to travel to another new city, another new stadium, and the excitement just kept building. Apart from losing in the final, we were on the same high that we had from the first day of the tournament.”