On a sunny and hot Sunday afternoon in Chicago, Jamaica and Venezuela started their 2016 Copa America campaigns.
Jamaica played their normal 4-4-2, with Philadelphia Union star goalkeeper Andre Blake getting the nod in goal in front of Kemar Lawrence, Michael Hector, Adrian Mariappa, and Jermaine Taylor. Garath McCleary, Rodolph Austin, Je-Vaughn Watson, and Jobi McAnuff comprised the midfield behind Clayton Donaldson and Giles Barnes.
Venezuela lined up in a 4-5-1 with Dani Hernandez in goal, and Rolf Feltscher, Wilker Angel, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, and Roberto Rosales on the back line. Arquimedes Figuera and Tomas Rincon played the double pivot behind Luis Seijas, Josef Martinez, and Alejandro Guerra with Salomon Rondon the lone striker for La Vinotinto.
Jamaica had some good chances early, with a Je-Vaughn Watson header hitting off of the crossbar, but it was Venezuela who would eventually score in the 16th minute. Michael Hector turned the ball over cheaply to Arquimedes Figuera, who found Alejandro Guerra. Guerra turned it over to Josef Martinez, who shot it between Andre Blake's legs as he rushed up to try and block the shot.
Things went from bad to worse just eight minutes later when Rodolph Austin picked up a straight red card when he raked his studs down the leg of Tomas Rincon. Austin was falling backwards and had kicked the ball on, and the contact looked incidental. In my mind, the card was definitely a harsh one. Venezuela kept their foot on the gas and had some decent chances while Jamaica clearly looked shell-shocked.
Jamaica made their first change at the 40 minute mark bringing on Leicester City's Wes Morgan for Kemar Lawrence, who was massaging his leg. Morgan was initially ruled out by Winfried Schaefer due to reports Morgan was tired from partying in London and Thailand celebrating the Foxes' Premier League championship, however his impact was immediately felt. His calming presence in the back helped shift the balance of play if not back in Jamaica's favor, then certainly to a more level playing field.
At the half, Schaefer was seen having about a minute long conversation with the referees at midfield, which resulted to him being banished to the stands for the second half.
After the half, Jamaica looked much more dangerous, getting some good chances on goal. In the 68th minute, Jobi McAnuff put an Adrian Mariappa pass just wide of the net. Just two minutes later, Andre Blake showed the world why he's the best keeper in MLS with an absolutely brilliant save on Wilker Angel to keep Jamaica within one.
Despite their best efforts, Venezuela was able to hold possession and choke the life out of the Jamaican attack, and the match ended with a 1-0 win for La Vinotinto. It's worth noting that this is the fourth straight Copa America match Jamaica has lost 1-0, and the Reggae Boyz are really up against it, most likely needing to beat both Mexico and Uruguay in order to make it out of the group stage - a tall order to say the least.
Jamaica now heads to California, where they'll take on Chicharito and Mexico in the Rose Bowl on Thursday, June 9 at 10:00 PM Eastern (7:00 PM Pacific) before heading up the coast to the Bay Area to face Luis Suarez and Uruguay at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Monday, June 13 at 10:00 PM. Venezuela will face off against Uruguay here in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field this Thursday, June 9 at 7:30 PM before heading out to NRG Stadium in Houston Texas to face Mexico.