SANTA CLARA, Calif. – From a 30,000-foot view, Jamaica’s performance at the 2017 Gold Cup was an outstanding, roaring success. The Reggae Boyz entered this summer in flux, having been eliminated from 2018 World Cup qualifying and running under the guidance of former star Theodore Whitmore, who took over last year for a fourth stint as interim manager.
Whitmore and his staff showed themselves more than adept at melding new pieces into their roster over the course of the last month, culminating in a shocking semifinal upset of Mexico, and a final in which they went toe-to-toe with the eventual champion US squad for nearly 90 minutes. That can only be seen as a positive for a team that last qualified for a World Cup in 1998 – when Whitmore was the nation’s star midfielder.
“They did us proud,” Whitmore said of his players after the 2-1 loss to the US on Wednesday. “They did our country proud. What else could you ask for?”
What else to ask for? A fairy-tale ending might have been nice. That was surely the thought tormenting Jamaica’s Darren Mattocks as the championship stage was wheeled out to the center of the Levi’s Stadium pitch. Mattocks, the Portland Timbers forward, had run tirelessly through his fifth start in 14 days, trying to provide the breakthrough that Jamaica couldn’t find in their 2015 Gold Cup final against Mexico.
And as the gears of celebration ground slowly around him, Mattocks remained resolutely inconsolable. Jamaica goalkeeper and captain Andre Blake, right hand wrapped to protect the seven fresh stitches he needed after a first-half injury, tried to talk Mattocks out from underneath his towel. US midfielder Darlington Nagbe, a Timbers teammate, paid his respects. None of it had an effect. To come so close and have those dreams dashed by a loose ball that turned into Jordan Morris’ 88th-minute game winner seemed almost crueler than Mexico’s 3-1 victory two years ago.
“It was like a dagger to the heart,” Whitmore said. “This is football. If you look on the semifinal with us and Mexico, the same thing happened in that game [with Kemar Lawrence’s 88th-minute free-kick winner].… We came up short tonight.”
Jamaica were well positioned to duel with the US, being backstopped by Blake, the Philadelphia Union 'keeper who turned in superlative results over the course of the entire tournament. But an inadvertent kick from US midfielder Kellyn Acosta, as Blake dived to cover a rebound in the 19th minute, opened a gash between his index and middle fingers, ending his night inconceivably early.
Luckily, things weren’t worse for Blake. X-rays were negative and he said his status would be “a day-by-day situation” when the stitches come out in 10 days.
Initially, Blake hoped to play through the pain, but “as soon as I saw it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue. I was just hoping the guys would have been able to do it for me. They did a great job, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to.”
“I think the future is bright for Jamaican football,” Whitmore said. “We have a platform here we can build on.… The sky’s the limit for us. We just have to keep working.”
Said Blake: “We’re kind of starting to realize more and more that we have the talent. We just have to keep this group of guys together and improve in a few different spots and keep going forward.”