The Jamaican Men’s National Team comes into this weekend’s quarterfinals seeking a third consecutive trip to the Concacaf Gold Cup Final.
After winning Group C with a 2-1-0 record, the Reggae Boyz are gearing up for a showdown with Panama on Sunday in Philadelphia. For Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, it is a homecoming as he prepares to play in front of his hometown fans at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to be home and I am really looking forward to the atmosphere of being back here,” Blake said. “Philadelphia fans are amazing and I am definitely looking forward to them coming out on Sunday and showing support. They are some amazing fans and it’s funny that I can get some American fans to root for us a little in this tournament.”
Jamaica is coming off a 1-1 draw with Curacao on Tuesday which was good enough to see them clinch the top spot. Blake is one of the key faces for the Reggae Boyz, who have plenty of MLS representatives on the roster, including Kemar Lawrence, Darren Mattocks, and Alvas Powell.
A counter-attacking team who likes to use its speed and creativity on the wings, Jamaica will oppose a physical Panamanian side who is coming off its first loss of the competition. Like Jamaica, Panama has a handful of MLS players on its roster, and Blake knows the teams has to be better to advance to the semifinals.
“I think we definitely should’ve won the game against Curacao, we wanted to win,” Blake said. “In the end we didn’t take our chances, I’d say that’s soccer you know if you let teams hang around they will make you pay. We could’ve lost but we didn’t. We have minor details we have to fix but we’re ready for Sunday.”
“Defensively we have to be better, We know we are very good on the counter and can use our speed to get after teams, but we have to be strong defensively to do that. We’re going to have to work more as a unit defensively in order to spring attacks. Maybe some more off the ball running will do it.”
Now 28-years-old, Blake has made 31 appearances for Jamaica in his time with the National Team since 2014. He’s made it to two Gold Cup Finals and also lifted one Caribbean Cup in his time representing his country. Although the team has several talented players, Blake has served as captain at the Gold Cup, an honor he fully embraces.
“It’s great to be captain, but it comes with a lot of pressure,” Blake said. “It comes with the spot, I embrace it. It’s an amazing feeling and I try to do my best whenever I am on the pitch. Some days it isn’t easy but you have to try and lead by example with other players.”
Jamaica will be favored to get past Panama on Sunday which would set up a date with either the United States or Curacao. Like years in the past, Jamaica has continued to show its rise in Concacaf as they will also participate in the inaugural Concacaf Nations League this fall.
The country has only qualified for one World Cup in its history, back in 1998, failing to make it out of the group stage. World Cup qualification starts in 2020 and Blake will be helping Jamaica fight for a place in Qatar come 2022. Some work still needs to be done for Jamaica to take the next step, but Blake has seen the respect from opponents grow across Concacaf.
“I think we’re starting to get a little bit more respect than in the past,” Blake said. “It shows that the hard work we put in is starting to get noticed more. We have a lot of work to do, we have some young talented guys and a good core of veterans as well. The goal is to keep getting better together and the more we play together, the better we will get.”