Saturday saw the second round of matches from Group B played out in Houston, Texas, with Jamaica and Canada in the evening clash and Costa Rica and El Salvador later at night.
With both of the opening day matches ending in draws – Jamaica and Costa Rica 2-2 and El Salvador and Canada 0-0 – the group was wide open; a win for either of the four sides would put them in a good position to move on to the knockout rounds.
But the points would not come easy, and playing in the stifling heat would make that challenge all the more difficult – Jamaican and Canada required a water break given the circumstance.
Sitting on a single point each, both sides came out eager to take the advantage, but neither could find the breakthrough following an interrupted start. Four fouls were whistled in the first four minutes, as the referee set the tone; thankfully, having established his dominance, that would be the end of the over-officiating.
Canada looked solid through the opening passages: A Marcel de Jong throw-in was touched by Julian de Guzman towards Cyle Larin in the box, sending a header at goal only for a foul call to be made, claiming he shoved off on his mark. Samuel Piette would find space for a shot a few minutes later, but it was blocked, and come the twelfth minute Tosaint Ricketts was played in alone down the right by a neat through-ball, only for the Jamaican keeper, Dwayne Miller to read the threat, coming quickly off his line to snuff it.
Following that early flurry, The Reggae Boyz came to life. Simon Dawkins placed his right-footer from the top of the arc over the bar. So too did Rodolph Austin ten minutes later in the 26th minute; the attempt was less a threat than a warning, a vast lane up the middle of the pitch having opened for the defender to find the chance.
Canada then needed David Edgar to clear off the line when Kemar Lawrence attacked up the left-side of the area, his shot either caught a piece of Dejan Jakovic's sliding block, or was touched by Kenny Stamatopoulos in the 27th minute, necessitating Edgar's intervention.
Les Rouges would suffer another scare in the 43rd minute when Stamatopoulos went up for a corner kick, colliding with Adrian Mariappa, who won the header cleanly, sending it wide. The keeper looked shaken, having taken a forearm to the chin.
As the second half progressed, it became more and more clear this would not be Canada's night, Jamaica increasingly ratcheted up the pressure. And it wouldn't be CONCACAF without a little bit of ridiculousness, the lead nearly falling the way of the Boyz by way of a horrendously poor call.
Edgar collided with a Jamaican attacker, both going for the ball but the latter was the one who showed his studs, yet the free-kick went the way of the Jamaicans and Edgar was shown a yellow-card. Injury was almost added to insult, as Giles Barnes ensuing free-kick would strike the face of the bar.
Fitness and speed would favour the Jamaicans through the final half hour. Stamatopoulos would have to be quick off his line to prevent Darren Mattocks from getting on the end of a long ball having sprung a high offside-line. Mattocks would then be the beneficiary of a neat back-heel flick/nutmeg from Barnes, playing through to his teammate, only for the low right-footer to go wide of the right-post.
Jamaica would finally find their deserved goal in the 92nd minute when a ball was worked out wide to
Garath McCleary, who flung a cross into the area from the right. Half the Jamaican team was lined up at the back-stick, with only Nik Ledgerwood in place to defend, and Austin would place a firm header into the back of the Canadian net.
Jamaican earned their 1-0 win, taking top spot of the group in the process.
In the second match, El Salvador and Costa Rica played to a 1-1 draw.
Both sides found chances in the first half – Arturo Alvarez neatly worked past two defenders on the right, cutting onto his left-foot, only to send his effort over the bar, while Bryan Ruiz sent a clean look at goal wide with the net gaping, as Salvadorean keeper, Derby Carrilo was out of position.
Los Ticos would take the lead on the hour-mark through captain Ruiz, capping off a sweeping move down the left. Francisco Calvo played in-field from the touch-line, finding Alvaro Saborio in the middle, who placed a ball forward down the left-channel for Ruiz to chase.
He took it down on his chest and appeared to have given himself too narrow an angle, only to beat the keeper with a low left-footer at the short-side – Carrilo would love to have that one back.
But Los Chapines would not concede the points without a fight.
Darwin Ceren stung the palms of Costa Rican keeper, Esteban Alvarado with a drive from distance shortly after Ruiz' strike, and just when it seemed that the highly-favoured Ticos would seal the result, El Salvador struck.
Come the first-minute of stoppage-time Ruiz committed a foul out wide on the left, Alvarez stood over the ball, swinging it to the edge of the six where substitute Dustin Corea had escaped the half-hearted marking of Roy Miller, once more a scapegoat at the back.
With Miller wholly unaware, Corea met the delivery with his left-foot, directing a low finish on to the right-side of goal, tying the match at ones and sending the largely partisan crowd into raptures.
A nod must be given to the El Salvadorean fans who have come out in full force for this group in both cities; it remains to be seen how many will turn out in Toronto for the final matches.
The match day would end with Jamaica atop the group on four points with a plus-one. Costa and El Salvador are tied on two points apiece, each with a zero goal-differential, while Canada sits at the bottom with a single point and a minus-one.
Group B returns to the pitch on Tuesday in Toronto, Ontario where Jamaica and El Salvador meet at 6 pm ET and Canada must overcome Costa Rica, should they hope to extend their participation into the later rounds.
On the docket for Day Six is the second round of matches for Group C in Phoenix, Arizona, where Trinidad and Tobago will meet Cuba at 6:30 pm ET and Guatemala takes on Mexico at 9 pm ET.
T&T and Mexico both took the full points in the first round, winning 3-1 and 6-0 over Guatemala and Cuba respectively, so they sit on three with positive goal-difference. While the two defeated side have hefty goal holes out of which to lift themselves.