Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz missed a plethora of chances as they suffered their first defeat of the CONCACAF Gold Cup when Costa Rica edged them 1-0 in Orlando on Tuesday night.
The top-ranked English-speaking Caribbean side dominated both the first and the second half with 18 shots overall but it was a header by veteran Bryan Ruiz in the 53rd minute, from one of Costa Rica’s few chances, which settled the encounter at Exploria Stadium.
Pivotally, the defeat meant a second-place finish in Group C for Jamaica and a difficult quarter-final clash against multiple-times champions, United States, next Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
But despite the loss, head coach Theodore Whitmore said the performance had been an improvement over the two previous games, when Jamaica appeared lethargic even though coming away with full points.
“I am very pleased with the performance of the team tonight. The result didn’t go the way we wanted it to but I’m very proud of the guys. We played as a team tonight. It was an overall team performance,” he told a media conference afterwards.
“They played with a lot of character, they did stuff that we needed them to do – we didn’t see that in the last two games we played.
“I think the finishing let us down tonight [and] I think we were unfortunate to come out on the losing side.
“We moved around the ball much quicker. We played with a lot of urgency, cohesiveness, [and] we found space in and through Costa Rica. But again, it’s just the finishing that let us down.”
Fielding almost an entirely new starting XI, Jamaica started on the front foot and were able to put Costa Rica under early pressure.
Kemar Lawrence could have done better in the 14th minute when he flashed his shot wide of the uprights, following a smooth buildup inspired by 21-year-old Belgium-based forward Tyreek Magee.
In the 26th, Magee sent his free-kick from the edge of the box over the crossbar before Jamaica squandered two chances just before the break.
An unmarked Andre Gray, who plays for Watford in England, scuffed his shot from close range in the 42nd minute after Blair Turgott found him in the box, before being denied again at near post by goalkeeper Leonel Moreira in the 44th minute.
And in the only minute of injury time, Damien Flemmings had a weak shot from just inside the 18-yard box easily snuffed out by Moreira.
Following the break, Gray was again the offender, smashing against the near post in the 51st after being picked out on the right side of the box by Turgott, before Costa Rica then scored against the run of play just minutes later.
Keysher Fuller’s dispossessed Magee with a terrific, sliding challenge in midfield, laid off for Ariel Lassiter on the left side of the box, who skipped a challenge from Oniel Fisher and hung a cross up on the edge of the six-yard box which Ruiz nodded past goalkeeper Dillon Barnes.
Daniel Johnson, who plays for Preston North End in the English Championship, forced a diving save at the near post in the 64th out of Moreira, who then tipped over Flemmings’s goal-bound header seconds later, as Jamaica pressed for the equaliser.
A key moment arrived in the 72nd minute, however, when Moreira was handed a straight red for a handball outside the box.
But even with the extra man, Jamaica still struggled to break down the Costa Ricans as 66th-minute substitute Shamar Nicholson twice made a hash of finishes from point-blank range late on, following crosses from another substitute Cory Burke.
In the other fixture at the venue in Group D, Grenada lost their third straight game with a 3-1 defeat to Panama, courtesy of a brace from José Rodríguez.
Romar Frank scored Grenada’s only goal of the tournament in the 76th minute when he peeled off his marker, raced into the box to collect Shavon John-Brown’s pass from the left, kept his composure to round goalkeeper José Calderón and defender Adolfo Machado, and slot in from close range.