Gordon Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala:This one hurt. Badly. Jamaica surrendered a late goal Friday night and lost 2-1 to Guatemala, which put a huge dent in the Reggae Boyz's 2014 World Cup hopes. A strange night and testing atmosphere produced the best and worst of the Boyz. The grades below show how they fared.
GOALKEEPER: Dwayne Miller had been among Jamaica's best players this qualifying campaign - the team's security blanket, especially brilliant against the United States last month. Friday, however, the 25-year-old showed rare nerves in a hostile environment against desperate opponents. Not much he could do to stop Guatemala's first goal. But ball distribution was inconsistent and Miller badly mishandled a long-range shot, conceding a late corner. The resulting header doomed Jamaica to defeat. Not his best day.
DEFENCE: Injury to Adrian Mariappa and the return of left back Demar Phillips ensured a revamped back four. Experienced Shavar Thomas partnered Nyron Nosworthy for the first time this campaign in the heart of this unit.
Lovel Palmer at right back gave away ball possession too easily, especially early. But he supplied a couple of dangerous crosses as well. Phillips started slowly, but stepped up his offensive game later.
Moments of hesitation closing down attackers haunted Jamaica. Guatemala's goals proved it. No one stopped Carlos Figueroa as he waltzed into the box to score, and Carlos Ruiz's game-winning header was too easy.
While Guatemala's attackers sometimes seemed to occupy wide open spaces, especially early, poor tracking by other members of Jamaica's team was responsible too. Overall, not a bad day, but the errors on the goals were costly.
MIDFIELD: In a game that required a positive, commanding effort from the start, this unit opened sluggishly. But unlike the last game against the US, when players faced high pressure early, the Boyz often caused their own problems. Too many passes went astray. The ball movement was mostly slow and predictable. Players lacked pace and energy.
Jermaine Hue, who came in to provide playmaking edge, was outpaced and hesitant early. But allowed time, he showed his worth as an imaginative passer.
The retooled central combo of Jason Morrison and Jermaine Taylor lacked intensity early, allowing too much Guatemala penetration through the middle. Je-Vaughn Watson produced a great pass to send Luton Shelton clear, but failed to generate a consistent cutting edge. Watson also squandered a wonderful chance to level the scores just before being substituted in the first half.
His replacement Dane Richards was Jamaica's brightest spark, challenging Guatemala with sizzling pace, forcing the home team on the back foot. His quick dart caused a foul that earned Jamaica a penalty for the equaliser.
The midfield stepped up in the second half. Passing, on-ball pressure and movement improved. But injured Rodolph Austin's leadership and physical presence were sorely missed.
FORWARDS: Their job is to score goals, and on Friday this unit didn't do enough. Faulty technique and hesitancy cost Jamaica goals and the match.
While Shelton convincingly registered the penalty, he wasted clear opportunities. The most glaring was when he hesitated to get off a shot, after being left all alone with the keeper and was robbed by a recovering defender.
Ryan Johnson battled hard and could have been rewarded with a first-half penalty. His great cross to Watson, after bouncing up from that challenge, was also wasted. Omar Cummings was introduced too late to have much impact.
COACH: Key injuries forced Theodore Whitmore to juggle his line-up and hurt Jamaica. But Whitmore showed positive intent by injecting a creative presence in Hue.
But like against the US, Jamaica did not grab the early initiative. The team started too sluggish and predictable. The midfield was not compact and players were sometimes late tracking back.
But Whitmore showed willingness to make early on-the-run adjustments this time, pulling Watson in the first half and going with Richards' pace. That worked.
Overall, the Boyz were inconsistent in a vital match against a team which had never beaten Jamaica. That is on the coach.