Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Whitmore urges Boyz to remain focused on World Cup goal
When the dust finally settled on Jamaica's back-to-back World Cup Qualifying clashes against the United States, the Reggae Boyz, despite being outplayed and beaten in the return leg, have emerged optimistic about their chances for success in the remainder of the campaign.
According to head coach Theodore Whitmore, splitting the points with the United States (US) over the two games - a 2-1 win for Jamaica in Kingston on September 7 and a 1-0 loss to the US here four days later - leaves Jamaica still firmly in control of their destiny in Group A of the CONCACAF semi-final round, with each of the four teams having two matches to play next month.
"We have to stay positive," Whitmore urged after Tuesday night's game at the Columbus Crew Stadium in front of a packed house of close to 24,000 spectators. "(We're) still in the competition.
"We have 50 per cent of the points for two games, so I'm quite satisfied."
Overall, the Boyz are tied with the US and Guatemala on points with seven from four games. The group's other team, Antigua and Barbuda, have one point after completing the same number of fixtures. However, Jamaica are third - behind the US and Guatemala - on goal difference.
The top two teams advance to the final CONCACAF round, with the first three countries getting an automatic place in World Cup 2014 in Brazil and the fourth place team sent to a play-off with a country from another region to fight for another spot at world football's biggest tournament.
Based on their historic win at 'The Office', which snapped an 18-game winless streak against the Americans, Jamaica entered Tuesday's rematch confident they could conjure another huge upset. But the US, playing in front of a raucous home crowd on a day when national pride was at its peak, never gave Jamaica a chance from the opening whistle.
"I think we put a lot of effort into the first half, really pushed hard," said Clint Dempsey, whose goal in Kingston had given the US a 36-second lead before the Americans succumbed to two free kick goals by Jamaica. "... I thought we played a lot better this game than we did in Jamaica."
It paid off. Jamaica failed to adequately handle the pressure for most of the match.
Whitmore admitted the Boyz never found their rhythm.
"It was a different game from the United States team," he said comparing the two contests over four days. "I think they came out early and they were pressing us. We didn't get any time to play, especially in the first half, and we only started playing after we conceded in the second half."
Jamaica, who threatened US goalkeeper Tim Howard's goal seriously only once from a Rodolph Austin shot late in the game, were spared a heavier deficit through some fine goalkeeping by Dwayne Miller, missed chances by the US and Lady Luck's blessings.
"We were unlucky hitting the post a few times," said Dempsey. "The keeper made some saves."
The winning goal finally came in the 55th minute from a free kick by Herculez Gomez that eluded Miller's diving attempt. By then the US had expended plenty energy, which allowed Jamaica opportunities to claw themselves back into the contest.
"When we finally got the breakthrough, I think we were a little bit tired," explained Dempsey. "But we tried to keep possession. You don't want to take your foot off the gas, but at the same time you want to try to be smart."
Whitmore blamed the Boyz's sluggish performance, especially in the first half, to travel arrangements following last Friday's first leg.
Jamaica's contingent, split into two groups, departed the island at different times on Sunday. They collectively didn't arrive here until Sunday night, allowing only time for one training session the following evening.
The US took a charter flight after the first leg straight to this Mid-western city, giving them a longer time to recuperate after the brutal first leg. The Americans cashed in on their advantage by applying pressure early on Tuesday.
"It was important to get down to business and (my players) responded well," said US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann after the game.
However, Whitmore said he was not surprised by the US approach or the stadium atmosphere.
"We knew it was going to be this magnitude," Whitmore said. "We weren't surprised. Just a bit disappointed with the result.
"I think the US had fresher legs and push us on the back foot in the first half."
The US clashes behind them, Whitmore said Jamaica's focus turns first to Guatemala away from home and then Antigua and Barbuda at 'The Office'.
Jamaica's fate is in their own hands and the coach believes the Boyz will deliver.
"I'm very confident," he said. "We have three teams on seven points and basically we just have to do what we have to do."