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No stopping Jamaica's high spirits in bid for Gold Cup glory

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Jamaica coach Winifried Schafer

Alvas Powell's involvement for Jamaica's Gold Cup bid has ended after the Portland Timbers defender walked out on the Reggae Boyz before Saturday's quarter-final showdown with Haiti.

The 20-year-old, who won his first senior cap as a teenager playing in the Red Stripe League for Portmore United, was unhappy at his lack of minutes on the pitch and has returned to compete in the MLS.

Powell, a second-half substitute in Tuesday's 1-0 triumph over El Salvador, was fed up with keeping the bench warm especially as midfielder Rodolph Austin swapped positions with defender Jermaine Taylor for their opening tie against Costa Rica.

Jamaica's head coach Winfried Schäfer explained: “I told him that his time is coming as we need all players. It's all about the team spirit – all for one and one for all.”

Powell's agent Damani Ralph, a former Jamaica international, admitted: “It's a sad time for the youngster and a sad time for the national team right now, but I will address this at the end of the tournament.”

But the Boyz will be fully focused on their 22-man squad finding a way to see off near neighbours Haiti at the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday.

And although Schäfer's side will be missing key players for the clash with Powell gone, goalkeeper Miller potentially rested as a precaution after his head injury last Tuesday, Jermaine Taylor injured, Je-Vaughn Watson suspended and striker Darren Mattocks serving a one-match suspension, the Boyz appear to be back in business as an international force to be reckoned with.

Ryan Thompson, seen as the second choice shotstopper since making his debut 10 years ago, replaced Miller against El Salvador and made some critical saves to propel the Boyz through to the quarter-finals.

The 30-year-old, who became the first Jamaican to play in the Champions League with Irish club Shamrock Rovers, said: “I was proud to go out there and represent the country despite the circumstances. I was happy about my performance, but saddened by what happened to (Dwayne) Miller.

“It’s a special group of players that we have, I've never been around a group like this when everybody helps each other, I'm just proud to be a part of that. We need to just continue growing from strength to strength in this competition.”

Haiti, who finished runner-up behind co-hosts USA in Group A, are a side with steel and against the defence-minded Boyz it looks like a close call as to who will make it through to a semi-final showdown against either Cuba or USA on July 22.

Despite their close proximity, the two nations rarely tackle each other and their last meeting – their first for five years – was Jamaica's 2-0 success in November's Caribbean Cup when Simon Dawkins and Mattocks scored.

Only Kemar Lawrence, Austin, Jobi McAnuff and potentially Dawkins who kicked-off in that tie are likely to make the Saturday's starting line-up against Haiti.

Haiti, nicknamed 'the Grenadiers', play in a similar vein to the Boyz by relying on a stubborn rearguard and concentrating on both their athleticism and physical presence to eek out positive results.

Both teams boost a strong squad spirit and each are on a roll with tight defences, battling midfielders yet lacking the spark of a quality striker.

Haiti manager Marc Collat oversaw his side hold Panama 1-1 to kick-off their Gold Cup run, but they were edged out against the run of play 1-0 by defending champions USA before a slender 1-0 win over Honduras to reach their third ever Gold Cup quarter-final.

Jamaica, whose previous Gold Cup quarter-final clash was in 1993, opened their campaign with a creditable 2-2 stalemate against Costa Rica with McAnuff grabbing a glorious goal and Miller guilty for gifting Los Ricos their strikes.

Skipper Austin snatched a stoppage time header to secure a 1-0 win against co-hosts Canada and Garath McCleary's tap-in for enough to dismiss El Salvador 1-0 to top Group B.

Despite the lack of firepower from recognised strikers over the past six matches, the Boyz have shown signs of progressing to another level with a trio of 1-0 reversals at the hands of heavyweights Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in last month's Copa America in Chile.

The Boyz appear to have the bottle for the battle and are on the brink of progressing towards the big prize of a place in the Gold Cup semi-finals, but they desperately need some clinical finishing in front of goal to complete their revival.

Expected starting line-ups

JAMAICA: Thompson; Lawrence, Hector, Morgan, Mariappa; Austin, Laing, McAnuff, McCleary; Dawkins, Barnes
HAITI: Placide; Jaggy, Bertin, Jerome, Alcenat; Lafrance, Marcelin; Guerrier, Millien; Belfort, Nazon

GOLD CUP KNOCKOUT FIXTURES
July 18: USA v Cuba (M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, 5pm ko local time)
July 18: Jamaica v Haiti (M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, 8pm ko local time)
July 19: Trinidad & Tobago v Panama (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, 4.30pm ko local time)
July 19: Costa Rica v Mexico (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, 7.30pm ko local time)
July 22: Semi-final (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, 6pm ko local time)
July 23: Semi-final (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, 9pm ko local time)
July 25: 3rd/4th Play-off (PPL Park, Chester, 4pm ko local time)
July 27: Final (Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, 7.30pm ko local time)

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