PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The last time Mexico faced Jamaica, it left the field as the champions of a major international tournament on U.S soil.
Although Mexico can’t win a trophy in Thursday night’s rematch of last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup final, El Tri can take a big step toward Copa America success in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl.
The Mexicans hope to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals when they essentially host the Reggae Boyz before tens of thousands of their fans in Southern California.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio and his players are wary favorites, since they know all about Jamaica’s ability to surprise any opponent with opportunistic goal-scoring, particularly through the air. Osorio hasn’t lost in eight games as Mexico’s new manager, and he hopes to take away Jamaica’s strengths while moving his team forward.
“We are selecting a very athletic team — as athletic as we can,” Osorio said Wednesday night before training. “We think that we will have, in the first 11, six players that are very good in the air. We will try to defend in a proactive way, rather than a negative way. Instead of going toward our goalie, we will go toward their goal.”
Mexico is unbeaten in its last 20 international matches and is still perfect under Osorio, the Colombian who took over the difficult job when Miguel Herrera was fired two days after winning the Gold Cup by beating Jamaica in Philadelphia. While the Mexicans have fond memories of the meeting, Jamaica’s surprising run to the final didn’t end in storybook fashion.
“The final for 20 minutes was very good, and then one or two mistakes and we lost the match,” Jamaica coach Winfried Schaefer said. “But we have highly motivated players, and the last match is the past.”
El Tri opened Copa play last week with an impressive 3-1 victory over Uruguay, looking comfortable in Osorio’s schemes against a difficult opponent.
To keep that momentum going, Mexico must rise to the challenge posed by Jamaica’s athletic lineup. Osorio also emphasized the importance of possession and the avoidance of set pieces for Jamaica, both corollaries to their desire to keep the ball off the heads of Jamaica’s scorers.
Meanwhile, Jamaica needs a boost to its Copa hopes after a dispiriting 1-0 loss to Venezuela in its tournament opener. The Reggae Boyz haven’t beaten Mexico since 1997.
“We go into this game with full-on confidence, even knowing the task at hand,” said Jamaica’s Giles Barnes, the Houston Dynamo forward. “The main key for us is to be tactically aware. We have to stay mentally tuned in.”
The last time Mexico played in Pasadena was last October, when tens of thousands of locals roared for their 3-2 victory over the United States and its outnumbered fans in the playoff for a Confederations Cup berth.
The cheers in Arroyo Seco will be even more one-sided against Jamaica, but Mexico doesn’t take its LA support for granted.
“Every time we play here in the United States, we are very privileged,” Mexico defender Hector Moreno said. “We are very blessed to have the support of the people here. Whether it’s in Los Angeles or any major (U.S.) city, they come to support us, and we take that as extra motivation, rather than that being a disadvantage. We think our opponents are used to playing in hostile situations.”
Indeed, not much intimidates the Reggae Boyz, who beat the U.S. in Atlanta last July to reach that Gold Cup final.
“In Philadelphia, many people from Mexico gave us applause,” Schaefer recalled. “Fantastic. These supporters are behind (Mexico, but) I hope maybe after one hour, maybe the Mexico people come to us. It’s possible.”
Osorio didn’t announce a replacement for Andres Guardado, who was ejected in the second half against Uruguay. Guardado scored one of Mexico’s goals against Jamaica last year.
Rodolph Austin also will be out for Jamaica after his straight red card against Venezuela, but Leicester captain Wes Morgan is a logical candidate to replace him in the starting lineup. Schaefer used Morgan as a substitute in the opener, saying Morgan was tired from partying last month after the Foxes’ improbable Premier League title.
“He was celebrating a championship in England, in Thailand,” Schaefer said. “It’s not possible to just come to us and play football. He needs good training, good fitness. I think tomorrow he can play.”