Darren Mattocks entered the match in the 73rd minute, earned a Jamaican penalty kick two minutes later, and converted the chance scoring the lone goal of the match and spurring Andre Blake, Jamoi Topey, and the rest of the Reggae Boyz onto the semi-finals of the Gold Cup for the third straight year.
Outshot and out-possessed, Jamaica found a way to win Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field in the first of two 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal matches.
“It wasn’t pretty but that’s football,” said Andre Blake in the post-match media zone after he captained his native country to a quarterfinal victory. “I’ll take an ugly win more than a pretty loss all day. The boys did a great job tonight. It wasn’t our best game but we stuck to the task and defended our asses off and we’re moving on.”
Blake, playing in his home city of Philadelphia, spoke about the emotions he felt while wearing the captain’s armband Sunday night. “It was an emotional night for me. I felt the love from the fans and I’m just very happy that we were able to come away with the win,” said Blake.
The six foot, four inch brick wall of a keeper made his impacts felt early on in the match during the 28th minute when one of Panama’s most dynamic players, Edgar Barcenas broke free in behind Jamaica’s back line after a costly turnover. Blake, closed down Barcenas and then continued defending all the way toward the corner flag before tackling the ball away for a Panamanian corner kick.
Blake wouldn’t be called upon to make a save again until the 43rd minute when he easily smothered a soft shot from inside the box off the foot of Adbiel Arroyo. Despite not registering many shots, Panama were by far the better team through the first 45 minutes of action.
But Blake and his teammates regrouped at halftime.
“We weren’t putting pressure on their top guys,” said Blake when asked about adjustments at halftime. “We sat back a little too deep so we started to come out a little bit more to try and win the ball a little higher up the field.”
The minor changes in their approach proved effective. By pressing higher up the field, Jamaica was able to get their speedy players up top on the ball and in space more frequently which forced Panama to open up.
During the 58th minute, Jamaica almost tallied the first goal of the match. Blake blasted a goal kick deep into Panama’s half where Jamaica eventually won possession. After a few short passes, Junior Flemmings darted forward on the ball. Flemmings speed allowed him enough space to release a left-footed shot but it rolled just wide.
15 minutes later, however, Jamaica would create the only chance they needed to escape with a victory. A 50/50 ball floated inside Panama’s goal box where Darren Mattocks challenged Panama’s Michael Murillo in the air. Murillo’s arm was extended and contacted the ball as both players jumped which forced head referee Mario Escobar to whistle for a Jamaica penalty kick.
After a brief, yet passionate discussion among five Jamaican teammates, Mattocks walked the ball to the spot and calmly slotted home the PK chance for the match’s only goal.
The positives for Jamaica continued, however. While successfully killing off the final moments of the match, Jamaican head coach Theodore Whitmore decided to grant Bethlehem Steel FC center back Jamoi Topey with his first career international cap. Topey was sent on to clog the central channels and executed his instructions perfectly.
“It’s a very good feeling to be a part of this team and to get a chance to play,” said the 19-year old Topey after the match. “They told me to sit there in the central midfield and defend.”
“Very happy for [Topey],” said Blake when asked about his teammates brief yet meaningful performance. “It’s very good for him at this young age to be a part of the mix. With time he’s only going to get better. I keep telling him that it’s going to happen and you just have to keep going with the game-plan and to stay hungry and be ready for your chance,” said Blake.
Topey clocks in at an imposing six foot, six inches and at just 19, he is poised for a long and successful professional career for both club and country. And with Blake by his side – since both are with the Philadelphia Union organization – Topey should be in good hands as he continues to develop with Bethlehem Steel FC.
For Blake, however, a strong performance in the semi-finals from Jamaica is most important. “It’s about now,” said Blake when asked about proving Jamaica’s legitimacy as a threatening side. “We have to show everybody that it’s not a fluke. We know it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be a challenge but we are going to go out there and give it our all,” said Blake.
As of now, it looks like Jamaica are destined to square off against the reigning Gold Cup champions in the United States.
“Every time we play the US, it’s going to be a tough game,” said Blake with honesty. “But the boys like a challenge and we’re always up for these games. Games like that we don’t need any motivation for and that’s when we always get the best out of our players. To be one of the best, you have to be able to play against the best,” said Blake.
Blake, Topey, and the rest of the Reggae Boyz will now wait until July 3rd. Until then, they’ll recover while hoping to keep momentum moving forward. They’ll ultimately not look to shake up their approach too much. “We kind of just try to play the game on its merit,” explained Blake when asked about game-planning. “We like to be unpredictable and that way we can create stuff.”
Look for Blake to carry Jamaica against their would-be foe in USMNT. Blake will most definitely have his hands full against an offensively talented US side in just three days time.
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Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports