LOS ANGELES – Phoenix Rising’s Junior Flemmings started for the Jamaican national team as it sealed a Gold Cup quarterfinal spot with a 1-1 draw against Curaçao Tuesday.
Rising teammate Kevon Lambert was also brought on in the 73rd minute for his first appearance in this year’s Gold Cup. The pair will remain on international duty through at least the next weekend.
Jamaica entered this game at Banc of California Stadium knowing that a victory or draw would be enough to seal its progression.
Despite advancing to the next stage, the nature of the performance led Flemmings and Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore to stress improvement ahead of their next match.
“We just have to go back to training, and improve, and watch over the game and the areas that we can get better at,” Flemmings said.
With Leon Bailey benched after suffering a strain in his right foot last Friday, Flemmings was initially put out on the right wing for an important Group C decider.
Jamaica had the best of the opening exchanges. A trio of chances was shared between Shamar Nicholson and Damion Lowe, with two just missing the target and the other being cleared off the line by Ayrton Statie.
Flemmings was a big part of the early push, spraying a variety of through balls that penetrated the Curaçaoan defensive line.
Although the pressure did pay off, by the time the Reggae Boyz found the net they should have already scored several.
“I don’t know what to say, whether it’s bad luck or bad decision-making,” Whitmore said, “but I know it’s something bad.
“The good thing about it this afternoon is that we created a number of scoring opportunities that were lacking in the last game. So at least that’s one positive we can take from the game.”
The breakthrough came in the 14th minute. Andre Lewis’ effort from distance was almost certainly heading wide, but a slight touch from a well-placed Nicholson was enough to divert it trickling into the lower corner past a hapless Eloy Room in the Curaçao goal.
While they would enjoy several more chances as the game progressed, they also allowed Curaçao back into the match. In fact, by halftime, Curaçao held a 54-46 advantage in possession.
Curaçao was also creating chances – with Jurien Gaari’s distance effort requiring the fingertips of Andre Blake to tip it wide, and Jarchino Antonia inexplicably putting a shot past the far post as he broke past the Jamaican defense.
Halfway through the second half, Lambert was brought on in an attempt to solidify the midfield and counter the Curaçaoan threat.
Yet Curaçao continued to create chances, and a collective sigh was let out as Gino Van Kessel’s attempt hit the bar.
It took until deep into injury time for Curaçao to find their equalizer, with Gaari curling a long-range effort past Blake.
Jamaica will now face a cross-country trip to Philadelphia for its next game on Sunday. In a group that has already seen travel from Kingston, Jamaica, to Los Angeles, the travel may prove tough.
“You have to be mentally prepared for that, and also have your body physically prepared for that,” Flemmings said. “So it’s tough, but I think we can handle that in terms of getting some good recovery in.”
Jamaica will take on either the United States or Panama. The exact matchups will be decided with the conclusion of Group D on Wednesday.
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