The Jamaican Men’s National Team — the first Caribbean squad to play in a CONCACAF Gold Cup final, in the 13th year of the tournament in the Gold Cup format — lost to Mexico, 3-1, in the 2015 Gold Cup on Sunday, July 26, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in front of a capacity crowd of 68,930. The Reggae Boyz may have lost the game, but they won respect for their country and the entire Caribbean.
The tournament, which has been played for 13 years under this 12-team Gold Cup format, has been dominated by the North American teams, with Mexico now winning seven titles, the USA, five and Canada one. Back in 1973, Haiti won a CONCACAF title under a format that saw eight teams in a final tournament and a far cry from the much more advanced and organized biennial CONCACAF competition that has evolved over the years. In 1973, Haiti went on to play in the World Cup in Germany.
In recent years, Caribbean teams have made giant strides to close the gap between them and their more experienced North American rivals. In this summer’s Gold Cup tournament, all four Caribbean qualifiers — Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago — advanced to the quarterfinal stage, with Jamaica reaching the final. Those four nations are the only Caribbean teams to play in a World Cup tournament. Cuba was the first, in 1938, the Reggae Boyz played in 1998 and Trinidad and Tobago was there in 2006.
More evidence of a Caribbean surge was Jamaica’s performance throughout this year’s competition. After winning its group, the 2014 Caribbean champion beat another emerging Caribbean giant, Haiti, 1-0, in a tough quarterfinal battle that, again, mirrored the Caribbean’s improved game. In the semifinals, the underdog Jamaicans — who were winless against North American teams in 11 previous Gold Cup games — defeated the favored, defending Gold Cup champion USA, 2-1, on its home soil at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Last Sunday’s final revealed the aspects of the game still to be mastered before Caribbean teams find a permanent place as elite in CONCACAF. El Tri showed superior finishing and composure in the big game — the final hurdles for Jamaica and the rest. Mexico capitalized on crucial Jamaican mistakes. After a good start by the Reggae Boyz, who missed opportunities to score in the early going, Jamaica’s first crucial defensive error, in the 31st minute, saw Mexico’s captain Andres Guardado, left unmarked in the penalty area, side-footed a volley shot from a free kick into the upper left corner of the goal for a 1-0 half time lead. Mexico converted one of only three first-half scoring chances! Guardado, who became the first player to score in three Gold Cup finals, won the 2015 CONCACAF Golden Ball award as the best player in the tournament.
What sealed the game for Mexico was the early second half goal; the winner came from another crucial Jamaican error when central defender Michael Hector, dribbling out of traffic, lost the ball in front of his goal, and Jesus Carona, who won the CONCACAF Bright Future award as the youngest player in the tournament, had and easy shot in the 47th minute for the 2-0 lead. Hector again misplayed a crossed ball inside the six-yard box and Oribe Peralta made it 3-0 in the 61st minute — game over. Darren Mattocks scored on a very good individual effort to cut the deficit to 3-1 in the 79th minute, but it was too late for the Reggae Boyz. It seems the occasion was overwhelming for Hector!
The tournament, though, was an invaluable experience for Jamaica and good, timely encouragement for Caribbean teams as the 2018 World Cup qualifying games are in November. Jamaica, which won the 2015 CONCACAF Fair Play award, should defeat Nicaragua in a one-off, home-and-away series in late August and move into Group B with Costa Rica, Panama and either Grenada or Haiti for the semifinal round in November.
In other awards, USA’s Brad Guzan and Clint Dempsey won the 2015 CONCACAF Golden Glove and Golden Boot awards as the best goalkeeper and goal scorer, respectively. My Good Officiating award goes to the team of Referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador and his assistants Juan Zumba of El Salvador and Charles Morgante of the USA.
Mexico will play the USA for the berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, the tournament to determine the best national team among FIFA’s, world soccer’s governing body, six confederations. This tournament takes place in the country that hosts the upcoming World Cup, which is Russia. The Mexico-USA play-off is scheduled for Oct. 9, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. The USA is the 2013 CONCACAF champion and must play the 2015 winner for the berth.
Phillips, Drogba in MLS
Two former English Premier League stars, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Didier Drogba, on Monday, joined MLS teams. The brother of New York Red Bulls leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, Shaun Wright-Phillips, 33, signed recently to play for the Red Bulls. A top class player and former English Premier League standout with Queens Park Rangers (2011-15), Manchester City (1999-05, 2008-11) and Chelsea (2005-08), Shaun Wright-Phillips played for England 36 times and scored six goals. He last played World Cup soccer his country in the 2010 tournament.
Drogba, 37, joined the Montreal Impact. The former Chelsea FC forward and two-time African Footballer of the Year, Drogba scored 164 goals in 388 games for Chelsea and won four Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy. The other international stars who recently signed for MLS clubs are Mexico’s Giovanni dos Santos with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Italy’s Andrea Pirlo for New York City FC. Pirlo debuted for New York in a 5-3 victory over Orlando City last Sunday and scored and assisted in the win.
Fabian Espindola scored the winning goal and had an assist as D.C. United (11-7-5) rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat Philadelphia (6-12-4), 3-2; Vancouver Whitecaps (11-8-3) moved into second place in the Western Conference with a 3-1 win over San Jose Earthquakes (7-9-4); Montreal Impact (7-8-3) beat the Seattle Sounders (10-10-2), 1-0; Houston Dynamo (7-8-6) topped the Los Angeles Galaxy (9-7-7), 3-0; Toronto FC (8-7-4-) and Columbus Crew (8-7-7) played to a 3-3 draw; FC Dallas (11-5-5) knocked of the Portland Timbers (9-8-5), 4-1; and New England Revolution (7-9-7) and Chicago Fire (5-11-4) played to a 2-2 draw.