Je-Vaughn Watson, the versatile 37-year-old, has been recalled by Jamaica for the crucial clash against Costa Rica today (8 September).
The return of the veteran defender/midfielder, who replaced Richard King in the squad, seems a desperate throw of the dice for Jamaica head coach Theodore Whitmore.
Whitmore, whose tenure is being questioned after back-to-back defeats in the opening pair of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, has been involved with coaching the Reggae Boyz – albeit on and off – for at least nine years between 2007 and 2021. As well as being head coach he has also been interim head coach and assistant coach.
He has entrusted Watson, who bagged four goals in 87 appearances, to bring back some cohesion as his recent record at the helm has resulted in just two victories from his past nine matches.
The pressure really is on to earn revenge for the insipid 1-0 defeat at July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup to Costa Rica, who were missing many stars who were competing at the Olympic Games.
Whitmore, lacking the majority of British-based players for the Costa Rica trip because of the coronavirus travel restrictions by the UK government, will be fielding a very different side to the one that was so disjointed in Sunday’s 3-0 humiliation at home to Panama.
However, the eight British-based players who started in Kingston will not be particularly missed on the pitch to tackle Costa Rica as there was audible bickering during the Panama defeat inside the empty National Stadium.
Even Andre Blake, the usually reliable captain and goalkeeper, lacked composure during the 2-1 reversal in Mexico and the Panama debacle.
It is undeniable that the Reggae Boyz are struggling in all departments, with poor service to the forwards resulting in very few goals this year.
Costa Rica, who have been stuttering over the past 18 months, also have become goal shy. They have failed to score since they edged past Jamaica at the Gold Cup, registering two draws and tasting a pair of defeats.
Yet another loss for Whitmore will increase pressure on his ability to guide the Boyz to the FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar next year. Having won the 2010 Caribbean Cup, and finished 2019 Gold Cup runner-up to Mexico, indicates that he does not always miss the mark.
Yet Whitmore resigned after the Boyz finished bottom of their group for the 2012 Caribbean Cup, and he was replaced by German coach Winfried Schäfer.
However, this time there is no obvious candidate to fill Whitmore’s shoes unless once more the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) decide to splash the cash.
But Watson, set to compete in his 20th World Cup qualifier, could come to Whitmore’s rescue. He upset the JFF in September 2013 by turning down Jamaica for their World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Panama. The Boyz salvaged a 1-1 home draw against Costa Rica without Watson, but again Jamaica failed to navigate their way out of the final World Cup qualifying round.
Watson, who has now played three games for Humble Lions FC in the Jamaica Red Stripe Premier League this term, was with USL Austin Bold last season and is on the verge of joining an undisclosed top tier team in Egypt for his swansong.
He is a straight swap in the squad for Cavalier defender King, because the 19-year-old does not possess a valid visa to enter Costa Rica.
FK Čukarički striker Norman Campbell and Toronto FC defender Kemar Lawrence, initially denied entry into Costa Rica because of stringent visa requirements, have been cleared by the Central American authorities to compete in the all-important match.
Jamaican-born Campbell, whose UK visa had expired, plies his trade in Slovenia but was originally asked by Costa Rican immigration to produce a Slovenian passport.
Lawrence’s problem was that he misplaced his US Green Card during the Gold Cup, yet he had since been travelling with written permission in his passport from US Homeland Security.
Whitmore arguably finds himself out of his comfort zone by repeatedly falling below the expectations of the JFF, who have invested heavily this year in the squad in a push to reach the highly lucrative World Cup finals.
June’s whistlestop tour of Japan saw a spirited 1-1 draw against European giants Serbia followed by a 4-0 thrashing by Japan’s U23. A nine-day camp ahead of another shot at Gold Cup glory ended in a quarter-final exit to the United States, the eventual champions, after the Boyz stuttered through the group stages.
A Mexico defeat was expected in the opening World Cup qualified, but their dismal display at home to Panama leaves Whitmore scratching his head as to why his teams constantly lack ruthlessness in front of goal.
Whether Watson can help stop the rot, which would in turn kick=start Jamaica’s two-decade wait for another World Cup appearance, remains to be seen. But it seems unlikely that Whitmore will resign or be axed before next month’s trio of World Cup qualifiers against the US, Canada and Honduras.
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