TORONTO, Canada — Garath McCleary’s 73rd minute goal against the run of play lifted Jamaica to a 1-0 win over pesky El Salvador in Tuesday night’s Group B match.
The underdog Los Cuscatlecos controlled the second half against a lethargic and chippy Jamaica side which already knew it had advanced to the knockout rounds, but couldn’t find a goal.
Now El Salvador has to hope for a combination of results to go in its favor; Canada must lose to Costa Rica, and Group C’s match between Cuba and Guatemala must end in a draw.
Jamaica wins Group B and will face Haiti in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Baltimore.
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Both Jamaica and the Houston Dynamo may’ve taken a big hit in the first 10 minutes, as Jermaine Taylor was stretchered off after a hard collision with a sliding Andres Flores. Taylor appeared to be favoring his upper left leg.
Jamaica hit a lightning counter from Je-Vaughn Watson to Garath McCleary before the latter’s attempted cross to a streaking Darren Mattocks was cleared for a throw in the 11th minute.
It was El Salvador’s turn to try its luck moments later, but Jaime Alas popped Flores’ cross harmlessly over the goal. At the other end, Jamaica captain Rodolph Austin worked his way to the top of the 18 before missing left with a hard shot in the 18th minute.
Jamaica had to use its second sub in the 23rd minute after its diving keeper, Dwayne Miller, met a charging Pablo Punyed’s ankle with his head. It was USL goalkeeper Ryan Thompson who got the call over former MLS No. 1 overall pick Andre Blake.
The Reggae Boyz nearly capitalized on a dangerous free kick when Derby Carrillo spilled a shot onto the path of Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa, but the Jamaican could only cut a ball across the goal line from a tight angle.
Punyed, a St. John’s product who plays professionally in Iceland, was one of the stars of the show. The shifty El Salvador attacker missed on a few passes but his movement was very strong. Carrillo also played a smart match between the sticks.
Thompson made a pair of gorgeous stops on a curling 58th minute shot from Punyed and on Flores rebound attempt, as Jamaica found itself on the backfoot.
Substitute Arturo Alvarez came close to beating Thompson with a wandering dribble across and into the 18 with 20 minutes to play. His low shot had the keeper laid out, but missed the post.
And Jamaica found a goal moments later, much to the chagrin of a pro-El Salvador crowd. Mattocks laid the ball off to Joel McAnuff, whose shot was parried by Carrillo… right to McCleary for an easy tap-in.
But Mattocks needlessly took his second yellow minutes later. It was a bit soft, but the Akron product had to play smarter with a yellow. El Salvador had 10 minutes or more against 10 men.
El Salvador kept pushing, but was a step too gun shy until a pair of stoppage time corners, with Carrillo up in the mix.