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Bulls Abroad: Reggae Boyz shock Chile

Kemar Lawrence and Jamaica couldn't have asked for much more from their pre-tournament prep for Copa America Centenario.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Jamaica's Copa America Centenario preparations took the team back to Chile - the site of last year's Copa America - to face the current holders of CONMEBOL's showpiece trophy.

Though the Reggae Boyz performed very creditably against South American opponents last summer, and subsequently went on a run to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, it should be noted the team left Copa America without scoring a goal or a point. All they got was three 1-0 losses and a fair amount of praise for not getting completely obliterated by teams assumed to be comfortably better than Jamaica (specifically, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay).

That tournament was the moment when Kemar Lawrence stopped being the New York Red Bulls' best-kept secret and won acclaim from respected observers of the international game, as well as attracting the attention of the rumor mill.

But, Gold Cup runner-up medals notwithstanding, Jamaica's year hasn't quite progressed as the team might have hoped since last year's Copa America. The team's primary objective is qualification for World Cup 2018 and it has made heavy weather of that task: almost getting bounced off the road to Russia by Nicaragua, and currently sitting precariously on the cusp of elimination in CONCACAF's fourth round of World Cup qualifying.

What the Jamaicans need from this summer is to rekindle last year's Gold Cup form in readiness for their make-or-break World Cup qualifiers this September. Most notably, they need reason to believe they can go to Panama and win three points on September 2 - because if they lose that game, they will lose all chance of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

So this warm-up against Chile in Chile was a chance for head coach Winfried Schafer to see if he can turn around his team's recent indifferent form, or at least bolster his player pool's experience of difficult games in hostile surroundings.

A mismatch on paper - Jamaica is currently FIFA's 55th-ranked team; Chile is ranked third - the Reggae Boyz were expected to play much as they had done in last summer's Copa America: valiantly but without great success.

It was a rearguard effort to be sure, but the outcome did not flatter the Jamaicans: the visitors took their chances - and a 2-0 lead by the 53rd minute - while the home team could not make its pressure on the opposing goal count. Indeed, Chile's consolation goal was a gift: Kemar Lawrence tried a hasty, unsighted clearance in front of his own net and ricocheted the ball off Nicholas Castillo.

This was a morale-boosting and memorable victory for Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz will hope to add similar results at the forthcoming Copa America Centenario, but ultimately this summer's work will count for little if it does not contribute to positive results in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in September. (Well, winning Copa Centenario would be a very big deal, regardless of what happens thereafter.)