Owayne Gordon celebrates Jamaica’s upset of Mexico in the Gold Cup semfinals. (Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
SAN JOSE, Calif. — This isn’t your father’s Jamaica national team — not by a long shot.
In fact, many soccer observers felt it would it have been the longest of shots that the Reggae Boyz could reach the CONCACAF Gold Cup final for the second consecutive competition, given that defending champion Mexico stood in their way.
But a long shot — a meticulously placed 24-yard free kick by Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence — boosted the Jamaicans over El Tri, 1-0, in the semifinals and into Wednesday night’s final against the United States.
Past Jamaican teams have been known for their flair and attacking style with lapses of concentration on the other side of the ball.
“They are a different type of Jamaican team than we have seen in the past,” U.S. head coach Bruce Arena said. “They have a lot of discipline. They’re very strong defensively and very hard to play against. That to me is not what you typically see out of a Jamaican team.”
This side has locked down the opposition with a defensive-minded style that has relied on counterattacking and the speed of midfielders and forwards. It has worked to perfection as the Caribbean team has registered a 4-0-1 mark while surrendering only two goals entering the championship match at Levi’s Stadium.
That style, system and discipline comes from head coach Theodore Whitmore, the former Jamaican international captain and member of the 1998 World Cup team.
He has brought in Major League Soccer and international veterans such as goalkeeper Andre Blake, defenders Jermaine Taylor and Kemar Lawrence, midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson and Darren Mattocks to help the less experienced players who play on the Caribbean island.
“We have a bit of youth and experience that has taken us in the tournament,” Whitmore said. “We have solid back five, including Andre Blake and very organized. There are areas up the field we still need to improve, but again it’s a work in progress. We have to play according to the tournament to get the result, not the Barcelona style.”
In other words, beautiful soccer hasn’t always been in the game plan, getting results have been.
“They’re in the final based on merit,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “They’ve done very well. They’re a powerful team, very athletic. They’ve shown that they’ve been defending very well. They get out on the break and they cause problems with their pace. Will be a tough game for us.”
The Reggae Boyz hope so because they’re not going to change their system or style.
“We have a plan,” Blake said. “We all believe in each other. We just have the mind-set that no matter who comes in front of us right now we can beat whoever it is. It doesn’t matter for us. We just know that we have no limits on ourselves and we believe that whatever we put our minds to if go out and fight, we can achieve it.
“It’s not different with the U.S. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be tough, but it’s not impossible.”
If Jamaica can prevail over the Americans, it will become the first Caribbean side to parade aground with the Gold Cup and only the fourth country to win it, after Mexico, the USA and Canada.
“Honestly, all I can think about it from a week ago is history in the making,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been saying it to the guys, history in the making. This is history for our country. I don’t think any Caribbean team has won the Gold Cup. Never. This is history in the Caribbean. First ever. It’s not all the names on the paper, it’s with a complete team effort locked down, completely, just put it in work.”
And if the Jamaicans win?
“It’s just going to be awesome,” Lawrence said. “All the guys really want to do is go to Jamaica and have a laugh together and really celebrate in front of their own fans. I think that’s all they’ve been saying. I think that’s all they want.”