Whitmore’s Troops Prepare for Battle in Texas
Jamaica squad will be fighting for Caribbean Cup call-up
Theodore Whitmore’s Jamaica squad have a golden opportunity to seal a place in the interim coach’s future plans when the Reggae Boyz tackle Honduras at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on Thursday (8.30pm Jamaica time kick-off).
In Whitmore’s fourth game at the helm since replacing German coach Winfried Schäfer, there are no call-ups for any European-based players so once more the cream of talent from the island are called up.
Jamaica are aiming to improve on their spirited 1-0 friendly defeat to hosts USA earlier this month, when they were left chasing shadows after the hour-mark, and face 2017 Copa Centroamericana champions Honduras.
One player omitted from Whitmore’s 20-player roster is former Houston Dynamos skipper Giles Barnes, although many of the squad members will be familiar with the pitch as the selection comprises solely of those who earn a career in North America and the top talent from Jamaica.
The reason for these back-to-back friendlies is to fine-tune the Boyz enough to successfully defend their Caribbean Cup crown in Guadeloupe in June, and equally to build towards their Gold Cup appearance in July.
Schäfer masterminded both their shock sixth Caribbean Cup victory on their home patch in 2014 and their dramatic run to the final of the Gold Cup in 2015.
But Schäfer’s counter-attacking tactics were so limited that they soon became transparent and the Boyz suffered an embarrassing set of results to bow out of the World Cup qualifiers before reaching the last round for the CONCACAF region.
As a result Schäfer was given the elbow after a severance payment was agreed by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) late last year and in stepped ex-head coach Whitmore, who ironically was pushed out of the role in favour of Schäfer in 2013.
Honduras will kick-off as favourites to win this tie, not only because they are ranked a dozen places higher than world no.77 Jamaica but because their players are fighting for places in their World Cup Qualifying squad.
But as least support in Houston should be divided equally and both sides boast a reasonably large fanbase throughout Texas.
Jurgen Luis Pinto’s Honduras are currently on a six-match unbeaten run since November’s shock 1-0 home defeat to Panama in their World Cup qualifier, and coincidentally it was Panama who unceremoniously dumped the Boyz out of their World Cup campaign by breezing to a 2-0 victory in Panama City last September.
And the last meeting between the Boyz and Honduras finished 2-2 inside Kingston’s National Stadium during their thrilling World Cup qualifier in October 2013.
Whitmore has made just two changes to his squad and not shuffled his pack with New York Red Bulls’ left-sided defender Kemar Lawrence, who was a late withdrawal for the USA friendly, returning from injury.
The switches see Whitmore strengthen the middle of the pitch by bringing in the exciting talent of Fabian Grant alongside Portland Timbers’ Andre Lewis, the pair replace Real Salt Lake midfielder Omar Holness and Portland Timbers’ defender Alvas Powell respectively.
Grant, the teenage Harbour View ace who represents Kingston College, is one of two schoolboys to be given the nod by Whitmore along with Cornwall College and Montego Bay United’s star striker Jourdaine Fletcher.
Although Whitmore is only installed by the JFF as interim head coach, it is believed that the 44-year-old has voiced concern that the future of Jamaica’s internationals cannot be so reliant upon island-based players.
Schäfer was desperately trying to save his job after his disastrous World Cup Qualifying campaign so suggested to the JFF that he nurtured players on the island, with his argument that they would be more passionate to wear the gold jersey and that large amounts of money would be saved.
Whitmore inherited Schäfer’s squad for his first two games, Caribbean Cup group matches that he won but with less than a satisfactory display in either tie.
And Whitmore’s hands were tied once more for the two US-based friendlies as top teams in Europe don’t permit leading players to leave for these type of matches unless it is a FIFA international weekend.
The likes of 19-year-old wonderkid Leon Bailey, who recently moved to German giants Bayer Leverkusen for €14-million from Belgium outfit Genk, and Leicester City captain Wes Morgan are certainly the type of players that will bring the crowds back to the National Stadium and give their support to the Boyz through thick and thin. Crowds have been down since the World Cup campaign started to turn sour and there is no sign of improvement to get supporters along to matches.
Yet Bailey’s appearance in a Jamaica shirt, which would surely help bring the fans out in droves, remains in the balance as allegedly his adopted father is waiting for the JFF to apologise to the player for the harsh criticism handed out by Schäfer when he was in charge.
This could be the final experimental squad for Whitmore, with wholesale changes expected for June’s Caribbean Cup defence and July’s Gold Cup tournament. Although Whitmore is seen as a compliant employee by the JFF and if the JFF wish to save money then he may well discover that his squad is bereft of his first choice players.
But maybe, just maybe, Whitmore will unearth another leading talent from those he has at his disposal and at the same time stake his claim to returning to the post of head coach once more.
Goalkeepers: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Ryan Thompson (no assigned club).
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), Ladale Richie (Montego Bay United).
Midfielders: Dwayne Ambursley (Montego Bay United), Michael Binns (Portmore United), Fabian Grant (Harbour View FC), Ewan Grandison (Portmore United), Andre Lewis (Portland Timbers), 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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