Did Jamaica show contender’s form?
Jamaica passed its first test of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Monday, although Grenada seemed more like a practice exam for the Reggae Boyz, who comfortably cruised to a 4-0 victory. The walkthrough nature of the match provided little insight as to whether Jamaica is the best team in Group B, let alone if the team is near the same class as the United States and Mexico.
Grenada failed to even produce a shot on goal in a match that saw Jamaica coast to a 2-0 lead at halftime before opening the game up in the second. Despite goal from Luton Shelton and Ryan Johnson, it was a fairly underwhelming first 45 minutes for a Jamaica team expected to compete for at least a berth in the semifinal.
The result was never in question, but Jamaica came out slow and, at times, lazy with errant passes. As a player it can be tough not to play down to inferior teams, something Jamaica clearly struggled with in the first half. Most of the team’s possession came in the back and some mental lapses in the final third kept the game closer than it should have been at the half.
But that would change in the second half as Grenada grew tired and Jamaica’s superiority began to show. Grenada’s fatigue as a team gifted Jamaica time and space all across the pitch, something that should not happen against Honduras (or even Guatemala).
Most impressive about Jamaica was its ability to spread the field going forward. Demar Phillips had a great evening on the left flan,k and his spectacular spurt of individual brilliance that ended with a goal in the 79th minute was a reward for a solid effort on both sides of the ball.
Phillips’ ability to stay wide to the touchline and his willingness to track back defensively made it possible for Jamaica to send numbers forward. Against a better team – especially at that semifinal stage at which Jamaica expects to be – that could leave the counter attack open to a technically and tactically stronger opposition. Some of those first half giveaways could prove particularly costly with Phillips, Dane Richards or Rodolph Austin pushed high into the attack and leaving space for the counter.
The good thing for Jamaica is that it has two more games before the knockout stage to iron out the kinks. One of those kinks is finishing, with Johnson guilty of botching on several opportunities throughout the match.
While the San Jose Earthquakes’ striker did add his name to the score sheet in the 39th minute, he also blew a wide open back post header prior to the goal, and he failed to finish a breakaway in the final minutes, smacking the ball off the underside of the crossbar despite having more than enough time to make the right one-v-one decision against Grenada goalkeeper Shemel Louison.
Johnson will need to be sharper to help Jamaica in the coming matches, but if his teammates keep finishing goals like the clinical upper 90 volley from Omar Daley in the 84th minute, Johnson can live with a miss or two.
Richards and Shelton looked speedy and dangerous coming out of the midfield, and the Jamaican back line remained untested throughout the match. Despite many questions being left unanswered, head coach Theodore Whitmore will be happy with a 4-0 win. Simply, his team took care of business, which is exactly what it was supposed to do.
Jamaica is a team that is confident going forward but almost too eager to get wide immediately on the attack. Against the likes of Honduras and later on in potential matches with Mexico, Costa Rica or the United States, Jamaica’s wide play will leave it exposed against far higher quality opponents.
In the end, the 4-0 victory is merely a tournament tune-up. A win over an always overmatched and, in the second half, definitely unfit Grenada team is far from an appropriate measuring stick for Jamaica’s abilities.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer and proprietor of Equalizer Soccer who will be contributing to FOX Soccer’s coverage of the Gold and Women’s World Cups.