Jamaica’s makeshift Reggae Boyz fell 4-1 victims in their behind closed doors exhibition match against a young USA side at the Stadion Wiener Neustadt in Austria yesterday evening (25 March).
English-born Jamaica debutant Jamal Lowe scored with 20 minutes remaining, but the US totally outclassed the new-look Boyz. Sebastian Lletget bagged a second-half brace with Sergiño Dest and Brenden Aaronson also on target.
The hastily-arranged contest turned into a logistic nightmare for the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) after it was announced. Their ongoing battle over contracts and match fees deprived the Caribbean side of their regular array of stars including influential goalkeeper and captain Andre Blake.
Veteran Adrian Mariappa was given the skipper’s armband for the match, which was deemed to be more of a damage limitation encounter for beleaguered head coach Theodore Whitmore.
He inherited the squad that the JFF cobbled together, rather than hand pick it, which included eight new faces and a whopping 11 English-based players.
The Jamaican contingent only arrived in Austria on Monday, and managed just two training sessions under Whitmore before they were asked to tackle a star-studded US side.
Cavalier SC’s Jeadine White at least was offered the opportunity to feel like the No.1 choice for a change, as opposed to playing back-up to Philadelphia Union ace Blake.
Defender Michael Hector got a break from a stressful relegation Premier League battle with Fulham, while there were starts for Championship stars Amari’i Bell, Andre Gray, Lowe, Mariappa, Liam Moore, Kasey Palmer and Ethan Pinnock.
Whitmore cautiously opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, utilising Hector and Mount Pleasant’s Kevaughn Isaacs in double sweeper roles ahead of an English-based back four. The late additions to the squad of Lowe and Palmer saw them join left-footer Ricardo Morris in a midfield with Watford’s Gray given the thankless task of playing as lone striker.
Although Gregg Berhalter’s team looked promising on paper, the head coach must surely have been concerned about starting the game with two misfiring forwards in the shape of Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, as he picked three upfront by bringing in Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent.
Head coach Bethalter, who spent 15 years playing professionally in the Dutch, English and German leagues, set up his stall from the first kick as his side dominated play and possession.
Yet it took a 25-yard wonder strike from defender Dest to break the deadlock on 34 minutes. Midfielder Yunus Musah, who only last week turned down representing England to pledge his allegiance to the US, picked out the left back who outsmarted Hector on the wing before unleashing an unstoppable curling effort past the diving White.
The 20-year-old’s inaugural strike for the US followed last weekend’s impressive brace for Barcelona in their emphatic 6-1 league success against Real Sociedad.
But the goal left Whitmore, notoriously defensive-minded, fuming on the touchlines that his side had conceded.
His Boyz – who were virtual strangers to each other – continued to retreat throughout the opening half. They shut up shop by barricading at the first sign of a goalscoring threat with a pair of four-player blocks that simply stifled their opposition.
Pulisic, who has spent most of the past two months on the bench since the arrival of new Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel, was the only player who looked likely to add to Gest’s tally but missed his chance to score on the stroke of half-time.
At the end of a dreary and one-sided 45 minutes it was obvious that the remit for Jamaica’s players was to not lose the ball and to try not to lose the match, which frustrated the pace of the talented Americans.
It was a surprise to see Pulisic hauled off at half-time, replaced by Brenden Aaronson. Yet Bethalter’s tactics paid dividends as the Red Bull Salzburg midfielder doubled their tally by tucking home Sargent’s pass on 53 minutes from close range with Jamaica’s defence in tatters.
The second-half was littered with substitutions that broke up the flow of the game. And when Swansea City striker Lowe cleverly chipped Manchester City’s back-up keeper Zack Steffen on 70 minutes, the Americans must have feared there could be an upset on the cards against the run of play.
The Americans were never firing on full cyclinders, especially as they tackle Northern Ireland on Sunday. But two late strikes from Lletget in the 83rd and 90th minutes respectively earned the US a deserved margin for their efforts and at least left Whitmore with some credit for his squad’s endeavours.
There won’t be any gut punch following this defeat, but whether Whitmore is surrounded by more familiar faces for July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament remains to be seen.
The JFF will be aware that it was a long shot making sweeping changes, but it really was an impossible task for Whitmore to ask his latest set of troops to sustain the same rich vein of form that he has enjoyed over the past two years.
USA (4-3-3)| Steffen; Cannon, Long (Richards, 45mins), Brooks, Dest (Robinson, 67mins); Acosta, Musah (de la Torre, 72mins), Lletget; Pulisic (Aaronson, 45mins), Sargent (Siebatcheu, 82mins), Reyna (Gioacchini, 68mins). Subs: Horvath, Odunze, Miazga, Cappis, Otasowie, Dike
Jamaica (4-2-3-1)| White; Mariappa, Moore, Pinnock (Tilt, 64mins), Bell; Hector, Isaacs (Holness, 55mins); Morris (Willis, 55mins), Palmer ((Wellington, 86mins), Lowe (Luca Levee, 72mins); Gray (Hylton, 86mins). Subs: Foster, Paul, Harding
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