Here’s a look ahead to Jamaica against Mexico in the Gold Cup semi-finals, as the Reggae Boyz aim to get the better of the defending champions and reach their second consecutive final…
Keep it tight at the back
One of the biggest reasons behind Jamaica’s qualification to the semi-finals has been a stable and disciplined defensive unit that has conceded only two goals across four matches. That record is bettered only by Mexico, their semi-final opponents at the Rose Bowl on Sunday.
Last season’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake has enjoyed a very good tournament and particularly stood out in the quarter-final win over Canada, pulling off a string of superb saves in the second half. He also seems to be relishing wearing the captain’s armband. The experienced Jermaine Taylor – playing in his fourth Gold Cup – and much less experienced Damion Lowe have formed a solid central defensive partnership, with the latter having no doubt learned a lot from playing alongside an international with over 90 caps to his name. Full-backs Alvas Powell and Kemar Lawrence have certainly made a difference, contributing defensively as well as offensively.
In the 0-0 draw from Group C, Jamaica did a great job at cutting off space and not allowing Mexican crosses to be whipped in. They committed a total of 15 fouls, disrupting the flow of the game and making it difficult for Mexico to build any momentum. Sure, they barely threatened in the final third but that point guaranteed their place in the knockout stages.
Holding midfielder Kevon Lambert is serving a one-match suspension having picked up one too many yellow cards. The 20-year-old only made his senior debut five months ago and will be missed for this semi-final – he’s done an effective job anchoring the midfield, although a tendency to give away unnecessary fouls is an area for improvement – however there are several options for Theodore Whitmore to consider ahead of the game. According to the Jamaica Observer, centre-back Ladale Richie is set to come in for Lambert while Sergio Campbell, another centre-back, was tested in central midfield in training.
Last time against Mexico, the Jamaicans lined up in a rigid 4-5-1 formation with Lambert holding, Je-Vaughn Watson and Michael Binns just in front plus Cory Burke and Oniel Fisher occupying the wings. That meant Darren Mattocks had less support in attack as a lone striker yet the midfield gained a man, making the team more compact and harder to break down.
Whitmore has said he doesn’t intend on making any changes to the starting eleven that beat Canada, except for Richie replacing Lambert. With this in mind, Mattocks and Romario Williams are likely to stay as the striking duo which would represent a bolder move and this is something I’d like to see happen. The two have played together from the outset twice so far and caused lots of problems for Canada last time out. Fisher could return from injury, while Shaun Francis, Owayne Gordon, Ricardo Morris, Binns and Burke are all capable of playing out wide.
Be direct on the counter
There is plenty of speed and athleticism in forward areas for Jamaica so they must take advantage when the opportunities arise to break on Mexico. At times throughout this tournament, Jamaica have wasted good opportunities when the ball has been turned over by giving away possession cheaply or passing backwards, allowing the opposition to regroup.
El Tri had 67% possession when these two last met and logic would dictate they’ll enjoy the bulk of possession again. This means Jamaica will need to keep their shape, stay patient and spring quickly on loose balls, hitting the channels for Mattocks or Williams. Chances will surely arrive.
Play without pressure
This competition hasn’t been an easy stroll in the park for the Mexicans and they’ve rode their luck at times, but they’re still undoubtedly favourites as defending champions, seven-time winners of the Gold Cup and heavyweights within CONCACAF. For some of the Jamaican players this will arguably be the biggest match of their careers to date so they should absolutely embrace the occasion and play without any fear. These are fantastic games to be a part of – the atmosphere, the excitement, the adrenalin.
Whatever happens, the Reggae Boyz have already exceeded many people’s (including my own) expectations by reaching this stage with a newly assembled squad. Now they are just 90 minutes away from appearing in their second consecutive Gold Cup final, where they’d face the United States who beat Costa Rica 2-0 in the first semi-final.
What an achievement that would be.
By Nathan Carr