Jamaica hold their heads high

Jamaica may have been totally outclassed in losing to Mexico 3-1 in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Sunday, but they came away from the tournament with much to be positive about.  

Against Mexico at the Lincoln Financial Field in Pennsylvania, the Reggae Boyz started brightly but things looked ominous when Mexico captain Andres Guardado scored in the 31st minute. Jesus Corona (47th) and Oribe Peralta (61st) made it safe for Mexico, who never really needed to find top gear. The fact that they sent striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez back to Manchester United rather than use him for the final suggests that they never feared losing to Jamaica.  

Substitute Darren Mattocks, a scorer in the 2-1 semifinal win against the USA in Atlanta last week, restored Jamaican pride with an 80th minute goal.  

Despite the disappointment, Jamaica’s biggest consolation is that they became the first Caribbean team to reach the Gold Cup final. Beating the U.S. was one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history and a huge embarrassment to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, although Jamaica had a huge chunk of luck in the match.  

Against Mexico, the current Olympic champions, Jamaica never looked overawed but technically lacked that extra level to really scare them and all three goals exposed their sloppiness in defense.  

Jamaica’s passing movement throughout the tournament was the best in years. They always looked composed and were able to use the flanks early on to stretch the Mexican defense. The fact that they won the Fairplay award suggests that the Reggae Boyz are now more measured and less reckless in challenges than previously.  

Mexico won their seventh Gold Cup title and walked away with $1 million, while Jamaica received $500,000. 

A lot of credit goes to Winfried Schaefer, the Jamaica coach for the last two years. His appointment was initially controversial, but so far it has proven an extremely successful one. With the Olympics just a year away, hopes are high that he can see them qualify for Rio 2016.  

The German proudly held out his medal after Sunday’s match. “For me, this is not the silver, this is gold,” he said. “Nobody gave us a shot.” 

The tournament has thrown up many Jamaicans who attracted attention from bigger clubs than they already play for. They included Mattocks, Rudolph Austin, Kemar Lawrence, Jobi McAnuff, Je-Vaughn Watson, Adrian Mariappa, Simon Dawkins, Giles Barnes, Garath McCleary and goalkeeper Ryan Thompson.  

Schaefer has done what previous Reggae Boyz coaches have failed to successfully do in recent years – attract top players from Major League Soccer and the English professional leagues and blend them in with the Jamaica-based players. He has developed the right chemistry between the different styles and backgrounds.  

Guardado was voted top player of the tournament and the USA’s Brad Guzan won Golden Glove as top goalkeeper. 

Clint Dempsey of the U.S. won the Golden Boot with seven goals. The United States will face Mexico on Oct. 9 for a trip to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. 

As 2013 Gold Cup champions, the USA would have received an automatic berth to the Confederations Cup had they also won the 2015 title.  

Their semifinal elimination means the Americans now have to face Mexico for the CONCACAF region’s lone berth. 

Jamaica’s Je-Vaughn Watson battles for the ball against El Salvador’s Arturo Alvarez in an early Gold Cup match. – PHOTOS: AP

Adrian Mariappa impressed throughout the tournament.

Adrian Mariappa impressed throughout the tournament.