Heartbreak: Burke's last-gasp own-goal sinks Reggae Boyz as Haji Wright extra-time brace puts US in CNL final

By March 21, 2024

Jamaica’s senior Reggae Boyz were denied what would have been an historic run to the Concacaf Nations League final, as they suffered a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to United States in extra-time of a lively semi-final encounter at the AT&T Stadium in Texas on Thursday.

After taking the lead through Greg Leigh’s first international goal in the first minute, the Reggae Boyz defended stoutly to keep United States at bay, until an unfortunate Corey Burke own-goal in the last minute of stoppage time changed the shape of the game.

Burke’s 90+5 goal not only brought the United States back into the contest, but also sent the game into extra time where Coventry forward Haji Wright, who was a second half substitute, scored a brace in the 97th and 110th minutes.

The result means United States remain on course to retain their title, while Heimir Hallgrimsson’s Reggae Boyz will contest a third-place match with the loser of the Panama versus Mexico encounter. The final and third-placed games are scheduled for Sunday.

It was a dream start for the Boyz as, with just over 50 seconds on the clock, Bobby Reid provided a weighted cross that caught United States defence napping and Leigh arrived at the far post to expertly head home.

United States settled into their game and forced the Jamaicans into a defensive posture, which allowed them space to pick their passes in the attacking third, but they failed to produce anything meaningful to bother Andre Blake.

In fact, the combination of Dexter Lembikisa, Dishon Bernard and Joel Latibeaudiere made that possible, as they consistently got in the way of the marauding United States attackers to thwart a few efforts that were going goalward.

The Jamaicans could have doubled the lead in the 20th, but Cephas, who dismissed two defenders on his way into the 18-yard box, belatedly fired his effort straight to Matt Turner, in goal for United States.

United States had an opportunity to pull level two minutes later when Kasey Palmer foolishly gave up possession in a dangerous position and it took a desperate sprint from Latibeaudiere to chase down and deny Christian Pulisic.

The hosts continued to boss possession and again went close to the equaliser, Bernard put his body on the line to deny Malik Tillman and ensured Jamaica remained 1-0 up at the break.

United States maintained their momentum on the resumption and again breached Jamaica’s defence when substitute Gio Reyna squeezed a pass through for Tillman, and it took a timely check from Michael Hector to avert the danger.

From there the United States enjoyed a decent passage of play in which they camped out in the Jamaicans half but were unable to find the equaliser due to faulty shooting for the most parts.

Cephas should have doubled Jamaica’s lead against the run of play in the 63rd, as he got to a loose ball ahead of a defender and got through on goal, but he hit a tame effort straight at Turner.

The Boyz would pay for that missed opportunity when United States with literally the last kick of the game, forced an own-goal when Burke deflected in from Reyna’s corner kick.

From there, one could sense that the writing was on the wall for the Jamaicans, especially given the fact that they were absorbing a whole lot of pressure.

United States inevitably found the lead when Reyna supplied a decent pass through to Wright, who fired past Blake.

Jamaica had an opportunity to get back on level terms in the second half of extra time, but Romario Williams, who got through on goal, couldn’t bring ball under control to get a shot off.

However, Wright had no such issues, as he got on the end of another weighted Reyna pass and made no mistakes from deep inside the 18-yard box.

Despite being down, the Reggae Boyz fought on and created another opening, but Williams, who had space deep inside the 18-yard box, fired over the crossbar and that basically summed up the Jamaicans night in the final third.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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