Jamaica’s Simon Dawkins (center) faces Costa Rica’s Christian Gamboa and Elias Aguilar at StubHub Center. (Rafael Orellana/LOL-LA)
StubHub Center was the site of the inaugural group B matches for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup July 8, and it did not disappoint, as Costa Rica, Jamaica, El Salvador and Jamaica all emerged with one point after two highly-entertaining ties.
Costa Rica vs Jamaica
The game began in the style of the typical CONCACAF match – with the visibly superior team, Costa Rica, dictating tempo. But the physical Jamaicans took advantage of a horrendous defensive lapse by Júnior Díaz to give the reggae boys the 1-0 lead in the 13th minute on half volley off the right foot of Garath McCleary. The play began in a seemingly innocuous way, with Kyle Lawrence making a throw-in from 30 yards into an 18-yard box full of red jerseys. The ball took an odd bounce and went over the head of Díaz and onto the foot of McCleary, who buried the ball past a helpless Esteban Alvarado.
Costa Rica took on a more meticulous approach offensively after the goal, with Bryan Ruiz taking reins of the Ticos’ offense in the final third of the field. Once that happened it took only four minutes for Costa Rica to take the lead.
The first goal came in the 33rd minute on a set piece, when Ruiz found David Ramírez on a slick pass near the top of the box. Ramírez, in what looked like a play the Ticos had practiced several times, put the ball over the Jamaican back line and found Roy Miller to head the ball in just yards from the net.
In the 37th minute Celso Borges sent a long-range pass from midfield that found Ramírez inside the box. On the far left side of the six-yard box, the Costa Rican forward had a bad angle but managed a chip over goalkeeper Dwayne Miller. Although the ball was on its way into the net, Jamaican defender Westley Morgan arrived just in time to clear the ball away from danger, but mistakenly put it into his own lead to make it 2-1 in favor of Costa Rica.
Just three minutes into the second half Joel McAnuff tied it for the reggae boys on a spectacular individual effort that saw him maneuver around the Costa Rican defense to find himself in front of Alvarado. Faced with the oncoming Ramírez, McAnuff sneaked a left-footed shot under the left arm of Alvarado to tie the game.
Both teams had opportunities to win it in the final five minutes, though none was bigger than the chance Simon Dawkins had in the 89th minute after his right-footed shot from inside the box was spectacularly saved by Alvarado to cap off a thrilling game.
El Salvador vs Canada
The scoreless draw leaves both teams’ hopes to advance intact. However, this was a game so fluid that each team was left feeling like they missed an opportunity to get three points, even though you could make the case that each team was fortunate to keep a clean sheet.
The most obvious example of that was a missed opportunity by Cyle Larin in the 36th minute worthy of being in any list of blunders. Larin beat La Selecta goalkeeper Derby Carrillo after an erroneous pass from midfield put him in front of the net with only Carrillo to beat. The right-footed Larin beat Carrillo and needed only a right-footed tap-in from inside the box to give Canada the lead, but instead unnecessarily blasted the ball well over the crossbar and several rows into the stands.
“The miss by Larin is part of the game, it happens,” said Canada’s coach Benito Floro through a translator. “But that’s anecdotal because, after that, both teams had opportunities they either failed to capitalize on.”
El Salvador had several opportunities inside the box through fine individual efforts, but ultimately the Canada back line proved too physical for La Selecta.
Canada took control of the game in the latter part of the second half but were not concise enough in the final third to beat Carrillo.
Tosaint Ricketts had what would have been the goal of the tournament in the 81st minute on a well-placed bicycle kick from 10 yards that was blocked by Carrillo, who was in perfect position to swat the ball away.
“[The outcome of the game] gives us confidence moving forward and keeps us in the midst of the race,” said El Salvador coach Alberto Roca. “This team needs this. Every game is a test and I think today we passed the test, which gives us confidence heading into the two next difficult games against Costa Rica and Jamaica.”
El Salvador’s players and managers alike seemed satisfied with the result, indicating that it keeps their possibilities of advancing intact with two games remaining in the group stage.
“We’re content with the outcome,” said El Salvador midfielder Darwin Ceren when asked if the result was disappointing, “because we gave it our best effort and because we showed on the pitch we were superior to [Canada], and that’s nothing to be frustrated over. We know we have what it takes to advance, and now we head into these next two games with confidence.”