Whitmore Hand Locals a chance with Friendlies in USA
European-based players given the boot by Reggae Boyz
Theodore Whitmore’s first ever squad selection as interim head coach of Jamaica has resulted in the island’s players being given a chance to impress. The former Reggae Boyz midfielder and ex-manager of Jamaica inherited the previous squad for his first two games back at the helm, but is now ready to stake a claim on making the role permanent once more.
Despite selecting 10 players who ply their trade in North America’s MLS and USL, he has opted for a whopping nine who are island based to tackle the USA (3 February) and Honduras (16 February).
And there are no call ups for the usual European contingent, who fluffed the chance to progress to the final qualifying round of the 2018 World Cup.
The dismal results in the World Cup qualifiers was enough to see German coach Winfried Schäfer given the elbow late last year, and Whitmore was installed as interim coach.
Whitmore’s first test was guiding the Boyz through a three team group to reach the last four of June’s Caribbean Cup in Martinique, and he inherited Schäfer’s inexperienced squad that surprisingly omitted any of the regulars who play in Europe.
Although Whitmore’s teams battled through this pair of competitive games, without any sign of panache, he has stuck to his guns and selected Jamaican-based players with an eye on preparing the Boyz to be a future force in the Caribbean.
The USA, world ranked no.28, are the first opponents for Whitmore’s charges on Friday when the Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee plays host (7pm local time, same time in Jamaica).
But the Boyz are going to be more confident of claiming the scalp of Honduras in Texas almost a fortnight later.
Striker Jourdaine Fletcher is the player to keep an eye out for, given the nod to don a Jamaica jersey despite only recently having made his debut for hometown side Montego Bay United in the Red Stripe Premier League.
The Cornwall College ace will be aiming to learn from such stars as attacking midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson, who has been a hit with the New England Revolution but more of a miss with the Boyz in recent times, and the industrious Corey Burke of Bethlehem Steel.
The lack of goals for Jamaica has been an on-going issue for years, with both Whitmore and Schäfer pushed out of the role as head coach due to poor results and wayward finishing by their respective striker force.
Yet at the other end of the pitch it was Schäfer who shored up the dismal defence that had leaked goals under Whitmore’s previous tenure, and ensured that the Boyz made an impact. Schäfer was trying to save his job when he altered his tactics and surprisingly guided Jamaica to 2014 Caribbean Cup glory in Montego Bay.
US-based duo Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union) and Ryan Thompson (St. Louis FC) are the familiar safe pair of hands that Whitmore has selected for the upcoming friendlies.
And he will be a relieved man that the US were held to a tepid scoreless draw in San Diego last Sunday under new manager Bruce Arena after Jurgen Klinsmann was axed.
Arena is gearing his troops towards March’s World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama, and won’t have time to experiment and he is clearly aiming to steady the ship following the confusion of the Klinsmann era.
Honduras, Jamaica’s next opponents, are going to be much more match fit than the US squad as Arena’s squad is simply a collection of those at pre-season levels of form and fitness. Although that equally applies to those 10 Jamaicans who earn a living in North America and means that Jamaica-based players should get an opportunity to try and shine.
Arena opted for a conservative 4-1-4-1 formation on Sunday, with target man Jozy Altidore chasing balls to no avail. Midfielders Jermaine Jones and Sasha Kljestan impressed against Serbia with centre backs Steve Birnbaum and Chad Marshall looking impressive by snuffing out any sign of danger
Jamaica’s focus on the future, by overlooking such talents and experience as Leicester City skipper Wes Morgan who brilliantly marshalled the Boyz defence to reach last year’s Gold Cup final, is obviously a gamble by Whitmore and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF).
But when Schäfer was attempting to save his job, he proposed to the JFF that utilising Jamaican-based players was the only way that the Boyz will regain their respect on the international scene and qualify for the 2022 World Cup finals.
Whether Whitmore’s hands are tied by the JFF appears debatable, as surely some element of European-based players, who are midway through their respective season, would have given Jamaica the edge for these friendlies.
Whatever Whitmore’s remit is, he has a tough task ahead against the USA although he is aware that these two friendlies are simply fine-tuning for June’s defence of the Caribbean Cup and July’s Gold Cup tournament in the USA.
Goalkeepers: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Ryan Thompson (St. Louis FC).
Defenders: Sergio Campbell (no assigned club), Oniel Fisher (Seattle Sounders), Rosario Harriott (Harbour View FC), Kevon Lambert (Montego Bay United), Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls), Damion Lowe (Tampa Bay Rowdies), Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers), Ladale Richie (Montego Bay United).
Midfielders: Dwayne Ambursley (Montego Bay United), Michael Binns (Portmore United), Ewan Grandison (Portmore United), Omar Holness (Real Salt Lake), Je-Vaughn Watson (New England Revolution).
Strikers: Cory Burke (Bethlehem Steel), Jourdaine Fletcher (Montego Bay United), Owayne Gordon (Montego Bay United), Shamar Nicholson (Boys’ Town), Romario Williams (Atlanta United).
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