Fearless Jamaica Warm Up For Gold Cup With Victory
Nicolson’s thunderbolt upsets youthful USA
Shamar Nicholson’s explosive goal handed Jamaica a 1-0 victory over hosts USA in last night’s friendly at Washington DC’s Audi Field.
The Slovenia-based star bagged his inaugural goal for the Reggae Boyz, and in doing so inflicted the first defeat on US head coach Gregg Berhalter.
Berhalter, appointed in December, clearly underestimated the sheer verve of the visitors by opting for a young, experimental line-up to tackle Jamaica.
It was the buoyant Boyz who rattled the US in a rematch of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, with Nicholson unleashing a rocket of a drive on the hour-mark past Manchester City-bound goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
Whilst the hosts included just a sprinkling of first-choice players to give an outing to their upcoming stars, Jamaica were ready to spice things up and included Bayer Leverkusen ace Leon Bailey among their substitutes. However, as expected, Bailey was not unleashed as he is still recovering from a hamstring injury.
Theodore Whitmore’s Boyz were in cruise control from the start, but had a couple of scares at the very death of the contest.
Steffen was given a tough time between the sticks and early on was fortunate not to concede after being caught out of his goalmouth. But his first test was moments later when he did well to deny Dever Orgill from a left-sided tight angle.
The hosts then raced up the pitch only for Josh Sargent’s glancing header to stray narrowly wide of the target.
With a lacklustre midfield battle ensuing, the Boyz bounced into life to test the hosts with Steffen called upon to make a pair of saves when Jamaica looked particularly dangerous.
Their two full backs combined brilliantly and with speed, only for Alvas Powell to head Kemar Lawrence’s exquisite cross over the crossbar on 38 minutes.
Five minutes later Steffen seemed relieved as Kevon Lambert’s ambitious 20-yard drive was fired straight at him.
Yet it was the hosts who had the final say of the sluggish half with their first shot arriving on 43 minutes, but Everton’s Antonee Robinson miscued Cristian Roldan’s cross high over the gaping goalmouth.
After the turnaround the Boyz were eager to make their dominance count on the scoresheeet. Lambert’s roar-ripping effort forced Steffen into a spectacular diving save and Peter Vassell curled his long distance chance past both the keeper and inches wide of the far post.
Jamaica were gifted an opportunity on the hour-mark when Roldan’s pass went astray and was snapped up by Lambert, who quickly found Nicholson in space. The 22-year-old Domžale ace didn’t hesitate to unleashed a thunderous shot that gave Steffen no chance.
Head coach Whitmore celebrated in style after Nicholson, who debuted against the US in February 2017, handed the Boyz an overdue and deserved lead.
With the visitors bossing the game they took their foot off the peddle once the deadlock was broken, and almost paid the price. But the US squandered a pair of opportunities to snatch an equaliser in the final three minutes.
Duane Holmes sent in a telling corner to offer Sargent a point-blank chance to score, but he snapped at his effort and the ball went wide of the mark.
Holmes then picked out Sargent with a long diagonal cross. He turned on a sixpence and tried to drill the ball low into the left-hand corner only for kipper and experienced shotstopper Andre Blake to pull offf one of his impressive trademark diving saves to divert the danger around the post.
Since a shock 1969 reversal to Haiti at San Diego, the only other US previous home defeat to a Caribbean side had been the 2015 Gold Cup semi-final 2-1 loss at Atlanta. And Jamaica seem to be their bogey side, maybe because so many of the Boyz ply their trade in North America’s MLS and USL.
The Boyz definitely appear to be back in business ahead of this month’s Gold Cup competition, with Whitmore’s only dilemma having to trim his 40-player squad to 23 in their bid to reach a third Gold Cup final on the bounce.
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