Jamaica enter Gold Cup with good win, but admit "there's a lot of pressure"

Shamar Nicholson - Jamaica - smiling

WASHINGTON — Coming off consecutive appearances in the Concacaf Gold Cup final and an approaching tournament opener on home soil, expectations for the Jamaican national team are as high as they’ve ever been entering a continental championship.

Perhaps that explained the scenes following their 1-0 friendly victory over the US national team at Audi Field on Wednesday night, which included scattered satisfied handshakes, but little obvious elation.

“It’s not one to get over-excited about,” said Jamaica and New York Red Bulls fullback Kemar Lawrence. “It’s football, it’s preparation, and we need to get where we need to go.”

While the Americans left their nation’s capital preaching patience following a disappointing performance with shuffled lineups and tactics, the Jamaicans headed back to the Caribbean downplaying the performance overall.

“In moments it was obvious that the team doesn’t get enough time together,” said Jamaica and Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. “But you can see the individual talent, and that is very important.”

Blake’s words come knowing how high the anticipation will be for the Group C opener against Honduras in Kingston on June 17, and the tournament as a whole.

“We have been to the final twice, so everybody is expecting us to go again,” Blake said of Jamaican fans. “There is a lot of pressure, but it’s not going to be easy. And if we don’t go out there and have our heads on right and go out there and play, we’re going to be in trouble.

“It’s not always easy playing at home. When you can go on the road, you can grind it out. At home they always expect the soccer to be great. But in tournaments like this it doesn’t have to be pretty, it’s just about surviving and advancing.”

Against the Americans, Jamaica held a 13-5 advantage in shots, a 5-1 lead in attempts on goal and also passed the eye test as the team creating the more dangerous chances. This despite keeping talented 21-year-old Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey on the bench, and sending on veteran FC Cincinnati striker Darren Mattocks only for a late cameo.

Yet Lawrence agreed with US coach Gregg Berhalter’s assessment that the Americans had some bright moments in an experimental 3-4-3 setup, especially in the earlier stages. And familiar with the kind of talent the US didn't use, particularly former Red Bulls teammate Tyler Adams, Lawrence attributed some of Jamaica’s performance to American wastefulness.

“We learned that we still have a lot of tactical things that we need to work on when we don’t have the ball, being in our shape and stuff like that,” he said. “Because, when they get the ball, it’s one pass and beating our first line, and we can’t have that, especially when they put out a stronger XI.”

The challenge will be fixing those issues while also managing the excitement of a first-ever Gold Cup match on home soil.

“That’s going to be amazing,” Lawrence said. "Everybody’s excited, wants to see the players. We can’t wait.”