Gold Cup: Jamaica and Haiti Improbable Quarter Finalists

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Raise your hands if you predicted Jamaica and Haiti playing for a spot in the Gold Cup Semifinals before the tournament started? On paper, the quarterfinal matchup should have been Costa Rica against either Panama or Honduras. The Caribbean nations have stolen the headlines and dominated play on the field in this tournament.   Jamaica and Haiti, together with Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago have been the stories of the tournament.

Jamaica is currently ranked 76th in the Men’s FIFA Rankings, while Haiti is ranked 79th, however, Jamaica stole Group B from a less than stellar looking Costa Rica, while Haiti slipped past Panama and Honduras and were one defensive mistake away from tying the Americans. Neither team is lighting up the stats sheet, however, their physical play and ability to frustrate opponents is a big key to why both teams find themselves in Baltimore this weekend.

Jamaica in particular has been a physical team (51 fouls committed, second most in the tournament) and one not afraid to take chances (33 shots on goal, second most in the tournament). Two moments stand out in Jamaica’s group stage games that reinforce how well this team is playing:

Down 2-1 to Costa Rica, early in second half of the opening group stage game after having an early 1-0 lead, Jamaica did not hunker down to play defensive minded soccer, that the CONCACAF region is known for, instead, they attacked the Costa Rican defense. 33 year old midfielder Joel McAnuf from Leyton Orient of the fourth division in England, League Two, attached the heart of the Costa Rican defense as he ran past four defenders and beat a fifth, along with the goalkeeper to score the equalizer and gave Jamaica a 2-2 tie against the group leaders.

In a 0-0 tie with Gold Cup co-hosts, Canada, returning the favor in terms of physicality, Jamaica captain Rodolph Austin from Leeds United headed in the game winner in injury time off a Demar Phillips cross to earn his nation a 1-0 win. The game finished with 34 total fouls (15 by Jamaica), while the follow up game included 39 fouls against El Salvador (24 by Jamaica).

Haiti on the other end have relied heavily on defense and ball movement, they have only scored two goals but it has been enough to see them through to the Quarter Finals. Haiti has also been a physical team (46 fouls committed, fourth most in the tournament), however, young 21 year old striker, Duckens Nazon has led the offense for the team.

Nazon has brought an element to the national team that no one saw coming, his goal scoring and physicality is perfect for the Gold Cup and the biggest reason Haiti is still playing in the tournament. Two Nazon moments that show the difference he can make and his physicality as a strong forward are his aggressive play against the U.S.,that led to a Yellow Card, and his game winning goal against Honduras that sent Haiti to the Quarterfinals and Honduras home.

Haiti’s attack is formidable enough to cause Jamaica some problems as Jeff Louis and Wilde Donald Guerrier can help support Nazon. Unfortunately for Jamaica, they will be without two key players in their most experienced striker, Darren Mattocks, and defensive midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson as they will sit out due to card accumulation.

The improbable match up of the Quarterfinals should provide some physical but exciting play as Jamaica and Haiti play for a spot in the Gold Cup Semifinals.