Jamaica's unexpected run to the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final ended with a comprehensive defeat to Mexico, losing 3-1 on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
But the Reggae Boyz should take pride from what was a strong overall performance in the tournament.
Drawn into Group B with regional power Costa Rica, Jamaica defied expectations by topping the table and advancing as group winners. Following a narrow victory over Haiti in the quarterfinals, Winfried Schafer's side caused the shock of the tournament by beating the United States 2-1 in the semifinals.
While casual onlookers might have been stunned, those who followed the Reggae Boyz throughout the summer were hardly surprised.
Jamaica's long road to the Gold Cup final actually began last month in South America as one of two non-CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) teams invited to play in the Copa America. The other was Mexico, but unlike El Tri, Jamaica used the same squad for both tournaments.
The decision paid off, as the Reggae Boyz built chemistry and solidified their tactics and formation with three hard-fought 1-0 losses.
Back in CONCACAF, opponents found Jamaica difficult to break down. After allowing two goals to Costa Rica in the opener, Schafer's side didn't concede again until the semifinals.
Schafer deserves a healthy amount of credit for Jamaica's success this summer. Always an athletic team, Jamaica have added a new level of organization and defensive solidity under Schafer. After winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup, the Reggae Boyz made history by advancing to the Gold Cup final for the first time.
While they were beaten soundly in the final, one could make the argument that Jamaica were the most consistent team in the tournament until that point.
The challenge for Schafer and Jamaica will now be to turn this summer's strong showing into further progress. The first opportunity will come quickly: Beginning next month, the Reggae Boyz will face Nicaragua in a home-and-away series in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
If they advance past that stage, Jamaica would then enter the fourth round. At that stage of qualifying, they would face with Costa Rica, Panama and likely Haiti for the right to enter the final round—popularly known as the Hexagonal.
Based on their showings this summer in the U.S., Jamaica have the talent, tactics and footballing savvy to compete with any team in the region. If Schafer and his players can sustain this level of play, the Reggae Boyz have a strong shot to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
All of that is in the future, but even after defeat on Sunday to a superior Mexican side, Jamaica should be proud of what they have accomplished in the present.