HOUSTON – Survive and advance. At the end of the third round of World Cup qualifying, that was good enough for the Jamaican national team.
Utilizing a final day move up the standings past Guatemala, the Reggae Boyz advanced to the CONCACAF Hexagonal for the final round of qualifying for just the third time in history, previously qualifying during the 1998 and 2002 cycles.
Still alive, the Jamaicans know that it is now or never for their best squad in a decade.
"We have to get it done this time,” defender Jermaine Taylor (above) told reporters after Houston Dynamo training on Thursday. “It’s been so long since we’ve had so many players playing overseas and outside of Jamaica. We’ve said there may never be a next time that we have a core of players playing overseas. I think this is our best moment ever.
“Not to put down our country, but if we don’t get through this final, then football in our country will be set back even more than it is now.”
The fact they advanced is no surprise. The way in which they did, however, provided some iffy moments.
Confident of their chances heading into the final two matches – despite being third place in Group A behind the US and Guatemala – Jamaica’s faith was shaken in their penultimate game at Guatemala. A late Carlos Ruiz goal gave Los Chapines a 2-1 win, putting Jamaican hopes in jeopardy.
"Everybody’s head was down,” Dynamo midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson recounted. “But after that, everybody was saying, ‘We have to keep our heads up,’ because the next game was at home.
“We knew a tie would be bad for us but we knew [Guatemala] had a tough opponent in the US,” he continued. “We know the US is a competitive team and they’re not going to play for a tie. We just needed to score the chances that we’d get and we went to Jamaica and did that.”
Despite some nervy moments in both Kansas City and Kingston on Tuesday, the US won 3-1 and Jamaica prevailed 4-1 to erase a three-goal gap in differential and move both teams into the final round of qualifying.
Now the task is for Jamaica to continue on a road many of their faithful feel is destined to end in Brazil – allowing, of course, that the Reggae Boyz can survive what is sure to be a brutal Hexagonal.
“This is the toughest top six teams in a while,” Watson said. “But everybody is ready to experience going to Brazil for the World Cup tournament. Now we just have to do it for ourselves and for our country.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.