For the first act of Soldier Field’s Copa America Centenario games, Jamaica-Venezuela was a good appetizer.
The match had an early goal, a number of chances for both teams, the tournament’s first red card, what will go down as one of the best saves of the tournament and even had one of the managers sent to the stands..
The Venezuelans beat Jamaica 1-0 in front of 25,560 in Chicago in the Group C opener for both teams.
Josef Martinez scored a 15th minute goal and Jamaica’s Rodolph Austin was given a red card in the 23rd minute, which changed the dynamic of the rest of the match.
Jamaica hit the goal frame in each half, a Je-Vaughn Watson header off a corner kick in the 12th minute and a Michael Hector curling shot in the 48th, but was unable to score.
“I think it shows our camaraderie and our team spirit that we didn’t concede another goal and we kept on going,” said Jamaica forward Giles Barnes, who plays for the Houston Dynamo. “We still went forward, we still created chances.“
Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union played his part to keep the Jamaicans in it with an impressive diving save after a diving header from Wuilker Angel in the second half. Blake and Barnes were two of five Jamaican starters who play in Major League Soccer.
One of the big storylines for the match was the status of Wes Morgan. The Jamaican defender captained Leicester City to the English Premier League title this past season, but was a late arrival to Jamaica’s training camp.
Neutral fans were probably hoping to see a Premier League-winning captain in person. They had to wait until the 40th minute when he replaced Kemar Lawrence, who left with a groin injury.
“I only trained twice since I joined up with the squad and the boys have been together in camp for over a week and they had a performance against Chile,” Morgan said. “I feel like I could have done with a few more training sessions definitely. The manager asked me how I felt so I said I felt OK. I let him make the decision.”
As for that manager, Winfried Schaefer was sent off by the referee after halftime, which added an extra unusual element to the match.
Jamaica didn’t allow any goals after Morgan entered the match, but the damage was already done.
“By the time Wes Morgan entered the match we were already in control,” Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel said through a translator.
Both Jamaica and Venezuela are underdogs to advance from Group C with Mexico and Uruguay as the heavy favorites to take the top two spots. Jamaica is in a deeper hole and will next take on Mexico at the Rose Bowl on Thursday in a rematch of the 2015 Gold Cup final. Venezuela faces off against Uruguay in Philadelphia on the same day.
As for what’s next for Soldier Field, the U.S. will take on Costa Rica on Tuesday. The Americans are coming off a 2-0 loss to Colombia while Costa Rica drew 0-0 with Paraguay. It is virtually a must-win if the U.S. is to advance out of the group.