WASHINGTON DC, USA — Jamaica's senior footballers appear to have matured sufficiently and are now dominating some Central American countries, and head coach Theodore Whitmore is enjoying this phase of their football development.
The latest evidence was brought to the fore on Wednesday night here at the RFK Stadium when the Reggae Boyz blanked El Salvador, 2-0, courtesy of a goal in each half (16th and 66th minutes) from leading all-time scorer Luton Shelton.
The victory marked the ninth against the Salvadoreans in 20 meetings, and the sixth in the last nine encounters, including three draws.
The Boyz have been in dominating form against another Central American country, Guatemala, in recent years, though perennial powerhouses Costa Rica, Honduras and even Panama are hanging tough.
"I'm very pleased to see that we are now getting a handle on some of the Central American teams, especially when we play away from home," Whitmore beamed following his team's latest success in the friendly international ahead of their crucial World Cup Qualifying back-to-back games against joint Group A leaders United States of America on September 7 and 11.
"This one was also pleasing, especially when we consider the circumstances and conditions we worked under for this, game with about 50 minutes training time with the team and the sort of performance they gave.
"So under situations like these, we can't knock our players; we just have to go ahead and congratulate them on the performance," the former Reggae Boyz star added.
For this latest engagement, Whitmore had just one training session with the players, having found himself faced with today's realities where professional players are flown in for games from all over the world.
In Wednesday's game the Boyz made their intentions clear from early in front of 14,185 spectators, with Shelton and Andrae Campbell earning decent opportunities that proved to be tame efforts which were gleefully accepted by goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo.
At the other end, Jamaica's custodian Dwayne Miller had little to do until referee David Guntar called a dubious handball against central defender Dicoy Williams about 10 metres outside the penalty box.
However, Miller ensured there was no contentious moment when he threw himself to his left to pluck out Eliseo Quintinilla's left-footed effort.
Whitmore employed a 3-5-2 formation for this game, but his central defenders decided to sit deep in their half and allow El Salvador the luxury of space around their penalty area, and it was no surprise when they forced a right-sided corner. However, the threat proved to be at the other end as the Boyz reacted quicker to the cleared effort, with Damion Williams picking up the loose ball in midfield. He switched play to Ryan Johnson deep into the opponents' half and the Toronto FC striker played a neat pass to Shelton just outside the penalty box on the left.
The former Harbour View striker had some work to do to create an opening for himself, but he did it efficiently when he deftly eluded his marker to race clear on goal, and from an acute angle he placed a perfect left-footed grounder inside Portillo's right-hand post to give Jamaica the lead.
The Boyz then seized control of the game and could have widened the lead with a little bit of luck.
Johnson benefitted from a long ball clearance which left him battling a defender centre of goal on the edge of the penalty area, but his favoured left foot let him down as the ball soared just over Portillo's goal frame.
Then moments later, a retreating defender just managed to clear the ball off the waiting boot of Johnson from six yards out after Lovell Palmer had cleared his path down the right flank to centre a grounded pass.
Unlike the first half, the Boyz were slowly out the blocks in the second and they were fortunate not to have conceded a goal after Lester Blanco, who found the target in their previous meeting, a historic 3-2 victory for the Boyz in San Salvador last year March, placed his firm, uncontested header wide of Miller's right-hand post.
The Boyz soon regained control and Shelton made the game safe when he headed home from inside the box after Johnson turned provider for the second time after teasing his marker all the way down the left flank before making the looping cross from the goal line.
The Central Americans responded well and Miller had to be sharp to palm away a rasping left-footed drive from Quintinilla.
But the Boyz continued to create chances and substitute Darren Mattocks could have had a brace on debut, and Johnson, too, could have bagged a handful of goals had his bearings been good.
In the end it was no less than they deserve and they will now turn their attention to their next assignment against African side Kenya in Hartford, Connecticut on August 25.
Despite the victory and the clean sheet, Whitmore had reasons for concern and without going into details, said: "We went back to one of our old formations, it wasn't 100 per cent the way we wanted, but we played with different individuals like Shavar (Thomas), Dicoy (Williams) and Damion who weren't with the team for some time, so I wasn't 100 per cent satisfied, but they played as a team and it paid off for us."