MLS "has done a lot for our football," says Whitmore after Jamaica heroics

PASADENA, Calif. – Andre Blake was named CONCACAF Man of the Match in Sunday’s 1-0 upset win for Jamaica in Sunday’s Gold Cup semifinal against Mexico. Kemar Lawrence scored the winner on a stunning free kick with mere minutes to go.

MLS players have played a leading role in the Gold Cup run for the Reggae Boyz as they head to their second consecutive final in the tournament, and that fact is not lost on head coach Theodore Whitmore.

“MLS has done a lot for our football back in Jamaica,” he said in the postgame press conference. “The experience, the exposure, these players get in MLS and what they bring back to the country, it’s a plus. And this is only a stage for greater things to happen. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Ten players currently on MLS rosters were on the matchday roster on Sunday, with nine starting. Whitmore singled out the influence of three of those players in leading a squad that is almost entirely US- and Jamaica-based.

“We have a couple of players – Alvas Powell, Kemar Lawrence, Andre Blake – they keep improving and that’s what we need. I can only hope that they can lift our local players to a level where we want them to be, because we are a very young, inexperienced team and they are the ones who have to chart the way for the younger players coming,” Whitmore said.

Perhaps not coincidentally, those three play in goal and defense, respectively. Jamaica as a team have allowed only two goals across five games so far in the tournament, including two shutouts against Mexico.

“We have a bit of youth and experience and that’s been taking us through the tournament. I think we have a solid back five, including Andre Blake. Very organized,” said Whitmore. “There are areas of the field that still need to improve, but it’s working, obviously, in a tournament. And we have to play according to the tournament to get a result, not Barcelona-style.”

Blake, the Philadelphia Union No. 1 who has served as Jamaica’s captain throughout the tournament, may be building a case as not only the best goalkeeper at this Gold Cup, but the best player overall.

Whitmore acknowledged that his ‘keeper, who made five saves in the semifinal, helps cover up mistakes made by his teammates.

“Andre’s been doing well. Andre brings confidence to the team, he gives us a bit of comfort when he’s back there,” said the coach and former Jamaican international best known as “Tappa” to the fans back home.

“You can always depend on Andre. I think we are running a bit of a risk, but Andre just kept us going.”

As for Lawrence, it was a surprise to see the New York Red Bulls defender stepping up to take the decisive free kick, although his bending, dipping strike spoke for itself.

Whitmore, who said Lawrence “knew it was his time” on the play, noted that Jamaica may be able to give back some of what MLS has given to the national team.

“The New York Red Bulls probably have a better kicker than a Kemar Lawrence,” he said. “Now, Jamaica’s team needs Kemar Lawrence in dead-ball situations. It’s a totally different thing.

“Probably when the New York Red Bulls see this tonight, then Kemar might be able to take free kicks,” he added with a wry smile.