A rematch of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final saw a surprising but well-earned shift in outcome as Jamaica defeated Mexico 1-0 to advance to face the United States on Wednesday at Levi’s Stadium. In an affair replete with a combined six yellow cards between the two sides, it was exceptional goalkeeping by Andre Blake, who took home man of the match honors, that proved to be the difference for the Reggae Boyz. El Tri’s Jesus Corona matched Blake save for save until a free kick by Kemar Lawrence’s left foot found the back of the net in the 88th minute.
A less than half-full Rose Bowl with an announced crowd of 42,393 in tandem with Blake’s start-to-finish resolve in goal helped silence the Mexican national team faithful who made the trip to Pasadena. Blake teased at a memorable performance early in the first half when consecutive shots on goal by Mexico were cooly and calmly saved by the Philadelphia Union keeper. Hands, feet and head were readily employed by Blake to keep El Tri scoreless in what was a one-sided offensive effort by Mexico during the first 45 minutes of the match.
Having played to a draw against Mexico during group play, Jamaica made adjustments at halftime to overcome Mexico’s first half advantage in both possession and shots on goal. The tone was set early in the second half by forward Darren Mattocks – who helped to energize the Reggae Boyz with an aggressive approach that was nearly rewarded with a goal on a difficult shot in the 51st minute. Alvas Powell and Damion Lowe would follow suit yet fall short with their own respective efforts to put Jamaica on the board.
Luckily for Jamaica, the trend of goals not coming easily for Mexico would continue at the Rose Bowl. Having scored just three times in the previous three matches prior to tonight’s semifinal, El Tri held hope Elias Hernandez would rekindle the standout performance he delivered during the early auspices of the Gold Cup. Hernandez, to his credit, made every effort to ignite Mexico’s stagnant attack, but was overcome by sloppiness in his crosses and an inability to finish on offense.
Jamaica’s interim head coach Theodore Whitmore described the victory over Mexico as a feat nothing short of divine proportions.
“The best way I could put is the biblical story, David slew Goliath,” Whitmore said. “It’s overwhelming. Words can’t explain.”
Sure, there’s a slight brush with hyperbole in Whitmore’s words given the construction of Mexico’s roster, but tonight’s achievements were born of resiliency through tireless efforts – and that’s worthy of praise. The match seemed destined for a penalty shootout as the clock approached 90 minutes until Lawrence got to play unlikely hero thanks to a mic-dropping free kick that evaded Mexico’s wall with Corona left to watch the inevitable. This coming, as a member of the media pointed out, from a player who in his day job as a defender for the New York Red Bulls is never tasked with such a responsibility.
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The reserved celebration by the Reggae Boyz post-goal was in stark contrast to the physical and aggressive nature of the match.
Of the six yellow cards handed out to the two sides, Erick “Cubo” Torres’ brutal cleating of Damion Lowe’s leg drew the most ire as the offense appeared deserving of a red card. Torres found himself on the bench by the start of the second half with interim head coach Luis Pompilio Paez having seen enough from the Houston Dynamo striker. The late addition to the Gold Cup roster failed to notch a goal or an assist in the entirety of the tournament – a far cry from the six goals in four matches outburst he enjoyed to the start of the current MLS season.
And here we are – Mexico’s headed home as Jamaica boards a plane with dreams nothing short of gold.
It’s been a tale of two teams for the United States as we look ahead to Wednesday’s Gold Cup Final. Will we see the squad that struggled to put away a vastly inferior Martinique? Or can we expect the same type of performance from the Yanks that proved to be too much for Costa Rica during the second half of Saturday’s match?
Regardless of who shows up, the USMNT must overcome Andre Blake just as he stakes his claim as the Gold Cup’s hottest player.
David versus Goliath, indeed.