2017 Gold Cup preview: Jamaica
By Matthew Gourlie
For years Jamaican football had players with obvious individual skills, but a lack of team success.
Then, in 1997, Brazilian manager Rene Simoes brought in seven English-born Jamaican players to the fold and the Reggae Boyz qualified for France 98, their first World Cup trip, and won admirers with a combination of flash, professionalism, pragmatism and attacking flourishes.
Since then the Reggae Boyz have followed a path well known to supporters around the world: from daring to caution. Once the Brazil of the Caribbean, the Jamaican side has become increasingly organized, resolute and hard to play against — if not nearly as entertaining or aesthetically pleasing.
Their pragmatism has brought them some success, if not a return trip to the World Cup.
At the 2015 Gold Cup, Jamaica drew their opening match and then won three straight matches by a 1-0 score before beating the United States 2-1 in the semifinal. Their run ended with a 3-1 defeat to Mexico in their only Gold Cup final appearance.
At the 2015 Copa America they lost all three of their matches 1-0 and a year later in the Copa Centenario they also failed to score in three matches.
So far in the 2017 Gold Cup they have allowed one goal in three matches and held Mexico goalless. That result came despite the fact that Mexico had 73.5 per cent of the ball and completed 562 passes compared to Jamaica’s 145 in the match.
This Jamaican side is managed by Tappa Whitmore, one of the Reggae Boyz’ stars from 1998. Whitmore — an imposing, creative midfielder loved for his moments of brilliance and criticized for his work rate — has a team that is almost his polar opposite. His Jamaica are fast and dangerous, but they are also disciplined, hard-working and resolute.
Since bowing out of World Cup qualifying with one win and two goals in six matches in the semifinal stage, Jamaica has not featured many of their English-based players as they start to build towards the future and Qatar 2022.
At the Gold Cup, Whitmore has opted to bring in a side that sees 22 of their 23 players either domestic-based or plying their trade in the United States.
The side is without veteran defenders Wes Morgan and Adrian Mariappa or young Michael Hector who is with Chelsea. Veteran English league forward Clayton Donaldson is also missing. He, like Morgan, Mariappa and midfielder Jobi McAnuff are over 30. Jamaica is also without their captain, midfielder hard man Rodolph Austin.
Even with the absences, the Reggae Boyz have been able to maintain their strong defensive record and thanks to some heroics from keeper Andre Blake and progressed to the quarter-finals with an unbeaten record.
Fullbacks Kemar Lawrence and Alvas Powell have license to get up and down the wings at their discretion. This leaves their wide midfielders tucking infield to help make up for the lack of a true No. 10. Whitmore uses a fairly standard 4-4-2 and the front two will play staggered — though Jermaine Johnson played as a withdrawn forward in the opener — but if Darren Mattocks and Romario Williams play up top, they will both look to get on the back shoulder of defenders, though not always at the same time.
Young Kevon Lambert will sit in front of the central defenders and spread the ball if given time. He provides valuable cover for the marauding fullbacks, as does Je-Vaughn Watson. An experienced fullback himself, Watson can cover outside, but also does a lot of work in the middle of the field.
Jamaica can play through their lines, but they are just as happy to switch the point of attack to the flank to one of their fullbacks or trying to spring one of the forwards — or a wide midfielder like Cory Burke or Owayne Gordon — to launch the counter and use their pace to their advantage. When they do build more methodically, their entry pass into the final third is often a longer pass to the feet of an attacker playing with their back to goal.
Against Mexico, Jamaica came out in a 4-4-1-1 which resulted in them having long stretched with nine men behind the ball and a line of five lined up across the midfield. There is no reason to expect them to be that cautious in the quarter-final. Instead they will congest the middle of the field, spread the ball wide and try to exploit their pace with long balls over the top.
1 Andre BLAKE
Philadelphia Union/USA • 27/0 • 26
The reigning Major League Soccer goalkeeper of the year has been in top form thus far in the Gold Cup. Blake made six saves in a man of the match performance in the 2-0 opening match win over Curaçao. An athletic shot-stopper than has been stealing matches since his All-American career at UConn, Blake’s career has also been marred by handling errors and poor decision-making. Those moments are becoming increasingly rare and after being named captain before the tournament, he has not disappointed.
Dwayne MILLER (Syrianska/SWE) only started three matches in the Swedish second flight last season, but has 40 caps. Started all of Jamaica’s group matches — including a 1-0 win over Canada — at the 2015 Gold Cup and lost 1-0 to Argentina in the Copa America the same summer. Damion HYATT (Arnett Gardens) is still searching for his first cap at 31.
5 Alvas POWELL
Portland Timbers/USA • 31/2 • 22
In a team loaded with pacey players, Powell may be their fastest as he blazes up and down the right flank. A starter as a teenager, he hasn’t always lived up to his immense potential in Portland. Has all of the tools in the world, but hasn’t always delivered the end product. With the Timbers his propensity for mistakes and turnovers in dangerous areas have driven Portland supporters crazy. Through three matches at the Gold Cup, however, he has been steady defensively and dangerous in attack.
3 Damion LOWE
Tampa Bay Rowdies/USA • 8/1 • 24
Lowe couldn’t get a game in two seasons with the Seattle Sounders, but has been effective in the centre of defence for Jamaica. Not as fleet of foot as some of his teammates, he does have good closing speed. He has
21 Jermaine TAYLOR
Minnesota United/USA • 95/0 • 32
After five strong seasons with some quality Houston Dynamo teams, Taylor moved to Portland and has only started four matches this season for the expansion Loons. No matter, the savvy, if under-sized veteran central defender has been a calm presence in the centre of Jamaica’s resolute defence. He offers valuable leadership to a young backline.
20 Kemar LAWRENCE
New York Red Bulls/USA • 40/2 • 24
Not quite as adventurous on the left side as Powell is on the right, but is still the definition of a modern fullback, getting up and down the flank with pace and tireless energy. Lawrence delivers a terrific ball from wide with his left foot. He will also take left-footed free kicks and corner kicks. He has a goal and four assists for Red Bulls and is having his best season in MLS to date.
Shaun FRANCIS (Montréal Impact/CAN) was a late addition after former Whitecaps residency product Dever Orgill pulled out of the squad with an injury he picked up during the Caribbean Cup. The Impact acquired the left back from San Jose a week ago. The 30-year-old has size and pace to go along with 98 career MLS matches over eight seasons. Right back Rosario HARRIOTT (Harbour View) came off the bench in the Caribbean Cup final against Curaçao and scored to tie the game. Ladale RITCHIE (Montego Bay United) is a 29-year-old central defender, while Sergio CAMPBELL (Rochester Rhinos) can play in the centre of defence or midfield. Campbell was a first round pick of Columbus in the MLS Super Draft in 2015, but only made one appearance with the club.
18 Owayne GORDON
Montego Bay United • 11/0 • 25
Gordon started on the left against Curaçao, but is stronger with his right foot and seems likely to start on the right flank. Typically more of a forward with his club, he is comfortable on either flank and has a good first touch and plenty of pace. He led the Jamaican Premier League in goals in 2016 with 18. That earned him a loan move to Indy Eleven for the man they call Omar. Gordon only scored twice in the NASL and returned to Montego Bay.
15 Je-Vaughn WATSON
New England Revolution/USA • 67/3 • 33
A versatile veteran, Watson has played numerous positions for club and country. He has played four different positions in his four starts for New England. After slotting it at right back at the Copa Centenario, he’s pairing with young Kevon Lambert in the centre of the midfield. With natural forwards on the wings and no real creative midfielder in the centre, a lot of responsibility and a lot of the dirty work falls onto Watson’s shoulders.
17 Kevon LAMBERT
Montego Bay United • 6/0 • 20
After making his debut in a friendly win over Honduras at the start of the year, Lambert started the Caribbean Cup and has never lost his place. He has quietly had a very good Gold Cup and sits in front of Taylor and Lowe when in possession. The six-foot-three midfielder spent the start of the summer on trial in Serbia. Lambert has looked very composed passing the ball out of the back and switching the point of attack, but under pressure he will also look to put balls behind the back line for his attackers to try to get on the end of.
11 Cory BURKE
Bethlehem Steel/USA • 11/2 • 25
Typically a target forward, Burke has been deployed on both flanks, but seems more likely to play on the left if Oniel Fisher is absent. He will show some target forward tendencies and will try to play off the back shoulder and get on the end of balls over the top and into space.
Oniel FISHER (Seattle Sounders/USA) has started on the right side of the midfield in all three matches, but is doubtful with a hamstring injury that he picked up in the final group game against El Salvador. He would be a big loss for Jamaica as he can play on either flank and has been their best wide midfielder. He also would be the most natural replacement for either of the fullbacks. Michael BINNS (Portmore United) has come in to play on the left side of midfield twice and started as a second striker against Mexico. He also featured in all three group games at last year’s Copa Centenario. The 28-year-old has some pace and attacking qualities, but no more so than many of the other options and total disinterest in defending (and at times, frankly, running) is almost fascinating to watch. Ewan GRANDISON (Portmore United) is a defensive midfielder who started the semifinal and final at the Caribbean Cup, but hasn’t been able to beat out Lambert or Watson for playing time. Got 15 minutes off the bench against Mexico in the group stage as he came in for Binns to protect the goalless draw. Ricardo MORRIS (Portmore United) adds more depth to the wide midfielder pool and can play on either side.
10 Darren MATTOCKS
Portland Timbers/USA • 39/14 • 26
A player Vancouver Whitecaps fans know well. Mattocks always seemed to be on the verge of putting it all together and breaking out, but in the prime of his career he is what he is: a dangerous player with blistering speed who is more wasteful of his chances than he ought to be. He scored seven goals as a rookie in Vancouver in 2012 (at a respectable clip of 0.485 goals/90 mins) and has 14 since in past 4 1/2 seasons with the Caps and Timbers (at a paltry 0.260 goals/90).
22 Romario WILLIAMS
Charleston Battery/USA • 6/1 • 22
On loan from MLS’s Atlanta United after only making two appearances with the Montréal Impact and spending last season on loan with Charleston. The youngster is really quick in his first few steps which is most noticeable when he closes fast and presses defenders. He scored his first international goal against Curaçao on an audacious shot that beat the keeper to the near-post from a bad angle. Likes to play with his back to goal and hold up the ball and then play in others around him.
Jermaine JOHNSON (Tivoli Gardens) is a 37-year-old who started the first match against Curaçao, but was quiet. The Jamaican-born target forward spent seven season with Sheffield Wednesday and 13 years total in England. Shamar NICHOLSON (Boys’ Town) made his debut at the start of the year and came off of the bench in both Caribbean Cup matches last month.