Costa Rica may have broken Panamanian hearts, but it was Jamaica who made history on the first day of the Hexagonal.
The Reggae Boyz, led by Portland Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, went into Estadio Azteca and came out with a precious point against heavily favored Mexico on Wednesday night, securing a 0-0 draw as the home team was whistled off the pitch by their own fans.
Ricketts was the man of the match, producing a double handful of fine saves, including a point-blank stop of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández from eight yards in second half stoppage. Houston’s Jermaine Taylor also went the distance for the Reggae Boyz, working along the backline, while Ricketts’ club teammate Ryan Johnson put in 81 hard minutes as a lone forward.
It was supposed to be the biggest mismatch of the round – Jamaica had finished bottom of their group in the Caribbean Cup in December, including a loss to French Guiana and a scoreless draw vs. Martinique – but head coach Theodore Whitmore brought in a host of new players, and the gamble paid off. The MLS trio were helped by a number of England-born teammates who were new to the Jamaica set-up, among them midfielder Jobi McAnuff and forward Garath McCleary, who both had strong outings.
It was McAnuff who had perhaps the best chance of the night for either team, hitting the post just two minutes in, then somehow firing the rebound directly at Mexico ‘keeper Jesús Corona from inside the six-yard box. Johnson also should have scored on a second-half breakaway after dispossessing Carlos Salcido, but he, too, contrived to fire directly at Corona.
Nonetheless, the Jamaicans happily took the unexpected road point.
Elsewhere, those heartbreaking Costa Ricans survived a furious first 30 minutes in Panama to rally for a 2-2 road draw behind Real Salt Lake Designated Player Álvaro Saborío, and an audacious bicycle kick equalizer from Bryan Ruiz.
The Fulham attacker had played a mostly anonymous 84 minutes before taking a chested pass from Saborío and converting the spectacular chance from just outside the six. It completed a two-goal comeback started by a Saborío tally in the 39th minute, giving the Ticos life after a suffocating start from the hosts.
That start included two goals in the opening 26 minutes, the first by Luis Henríquez and the second from Román Torres after some nice footwork by youngster Marcos Sánchez. With the crowd in hysterics, it seemed that the Panamanians were on track for their first-ever victory in Hexagonal play.
But Saborío’s 12-yard header silenced the crowd just before halftime, paving the way for Ruiz’s heroics.
The day’s results leave Honduras atop the table with three points, followed by Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica and Mexico on a single point each. The US are last after Matchday 1 with zero points.
The next Hexagonal dates are March 22 and 26. The US host Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colo., before traveling to the Azteca for a date with Mexico.