TORONTO – Garath McCleary sent Jamaica through to the Gold Cup quarterfinals in fine form, notching a late goal to give the Reggae Boyz a 1-0 win Tuesday night over an El Salvador side fighting for their tournament lives and the top spot in Group B.
With their place in the knockout rounds all but guaranteed already, Jamaica came into the match at BMO Field – the first ever Gold Cup game on Canadian soil – looking to secure a favorable matchup in the quarterfinals.
El Salvador have reached the quarterfinals in consecutive Gold Cup tournaments, but the loss may have ensured they play no part this time around, as their fate is now in the hands of other results.
It was a physical affair throughout, and Jamaica’s Jermaine Taylor, one of five MLS players to get the start for the Reggae Boyz, had to come off in the ninth minute due to an injury and then goalkeeper Dwayne Miller in the 24th minute.
Jamaican captain Rodolph Austin who scored the winner against Canada on Saturday, nearly opened the scoring for the second match in a row, but his 18th-minute strike from outside the box went sailing just wide of Derby Carrillo's net.
In the 34th minute, Pablo Punyed had the best opportunity for the El Salvadorans to break the deadlock in the opening half, but the midfielder put his strike right at substitute ‘keeper Ryan Thompson.
Thompson came up big for the Jamaicans in the 58th minute when Punyed riffled a shot on target, and captain Andres Flores got to the rebound. The goalkeeper stood his ground on both occasions, ensuring the game remained scoreless.
Although El Salvador looked the hungrier of the two sides as the match wore on, it was Jamaica who would eventually find the opener. It came when McCleary slotted home a rebound off a Darren Mattocks shot in the 72nd minute.
Mattocks, the Vancouver Whitecaps striker, was then sent off 10 minutes after the goal when he picked up his second yellow of the match, making for some nervy moments for Jamaica down the stretch. Mattocks will miss the quarterfinals as a result of his red card.
But despite a handful of late chances for El Salvador, Jamaica were able to hold on for the victory – despite being outshot 14-8 – to keep their hopes for a Gold Cup title alive.