Bring on the Reggae Boyz after its upset in Sunday’s semifinals. Late goal by Kemar Lawrence ends scoreless struggle and brings the island a 1-0 shocker over favored Mexico
By ARNIE LESHIN, Santa Fe Today
Down the way where the nights are gay and the sun shines daily on the mountain top, its party time on the picturesque island of Jamaica.
Yo mon, how about that? While favored Mexico had its mind on Wednesday night’s probable championship of the CONCACAF Gold Cup against the United States, in stepped rejuvenated Jamaica to spoil things and celebrate its own 1-0 victory.
And so now it became the Reggae Boyz lined up to play in the title match at Santa Clara, Calif., while the stunned El Tri had to change its plans and fly home.
It was scoreless until Kemar Lawrence scored on an exquisite 24-yard free kick in the 88th minute. It was a late strike that froze goalkeeper Jesus Corona. The ball rose past a five-man wall and curled into the left corner just below the bar for the New York Red Bulls defender’s third career international goal and first in three years.
Before that, it became a nerve-racking tense match as Mexico dominated and Jamaica held firm. Every time El Tri moved the ball across midfield and threatened, the defense did not falter and keeper Andre Blake kept the ball from out of harm’s way with some stellar saves, some coming in bunches.
The Reggae Boyz gained more confidence as Mexico tried to regroup. El Tri hadn’t trailed, hadn’t lost, in the tournament, but hadn’t been too aggressive, with no player scoring more than one goal. That lack of finishing skill ultimately cost El Tri and brought total disappointment in the semifinals for its fans that took up three-quarters of the packed Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Their team had dominated possession, but Jamaica, behind Blake, made enough sparkling, clutch plays on the defensive end.
After Lawrence’s high soaring kick over the defensive wall left up in the air, it was not exactly the celebration that was expected in this atmosphere and important game. Lawrence and teammates just joined together for a rapid yo mon cheer, and play began again soon after.
But after the final seconds ticked down and the less Jamaica faithful were standing and counting down, it was a much bigger, more satisfying celebration in this North and Central America and Caribbean region.
The Reggae Boyz were overjoyed, ran to the section of the stands where Jamaica’s fans were, and just hugged one another. It was Mexico selling out the place, but Jamaica coming away with the upset.
For Mexico, it was the only the second time it failed to advance to the Gold Cup final of the last six tournaments. It fell short of playing in its second consecutive final and fourth in five tournaments. While other teams were allowed to make up to six substitutions for these knockout rounds, El Tri coach Juan Carlos Garcia said he was blocked by Mexico’s clubs.
Jamaica, in turn, reached the final for the second straight time, losing last year to Mexico, but this stunning upset ranks among its biggest international victories. It has yet to win the Gold Cup, while Mexico has won seven times, the USA twice, and Canada once.
The USA has won 13 in a row since Bruce Arena was named head coach. Now while having the notion that it will again meet up with rival Mexico, it gets the Reggae Boyz.
Jamaica doesn’t come close to the vast size of Mexico, could probably fit into Mexico City, but loves to party while the tough task against the USA looms. And if the red, white and blue doesn’t come prepared, it could lead to yet to another surprise ending.