Reggae Boyz Target CONCACAF’s Best Player Accolades

Andre Blake (left) Michail Antonio (centre) and Damion Lowe via CONCACAF
Author: Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rüdd

Michail Antonio, Andre Blake and Damion Lowe are the Jamaicans who have a shot at making it into the prestigious 2021 CONCACAF Best XI of Year team.

The trio have been named as one of 10 players in each category with striker Antonio, goalkeeper Blake and defender Lowe recognised for their individual contribution on the pitch. This is despite Jamaica’s dismal CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign last year, that ended in head coach Theodore Whitmore being given the boot in December. London-born Antonio is a relative newcomer, having missed last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup as he did not have his Jamaica passport in time, so is a bit of a surprise to be included.

He is now a fully-fledged member of Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, putting behind him a disastrous much-hyped debut last September. The 31-year-old was yanked off after 70 ineffective minutes, during the humiliating 3-0 reversal to Panama behind closed doors at Kingston’s National Stadium. Yet the West Ham United hot-shot bounced back in style two months later with a spectacular goal in the 1-1 draw against El Salvador. Antonio raced from the halfway line before cheekily dinking the ball over the goalkeeper.

He was at it again in only his third international appearance, with a stunning goal in the 1-1 stalemate against visiting United States. Antonio’s impact has also seen him shortlisted for the newly-created CONCACAF 2021 Men’s Player of the Year Award, which is a bit of a shock as he played so infrequently at international level last year. He is one of only half-a-dozen players in with a chance of scooping top honours.

  

Jamaica captain Blake, who plies his trade between the sticks with Major League Soccer outfit Philadelphia Union, has long been recognised as being a leading player in the CONCACAF region.

The 31-year-old’s impressive displays and consistency have made the May Pen-born shotstopper one of the faces of the franchise since he became the full-time starter in 2014.

Blake’s 18 saves in six games helped Philadelphia Union reach last year’s Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League (SCCL) semi-finals. He ended the MLS season with a dozen clean sheets.

No one could beat Blake in back-to-back regional World Cup qualifiers last October. The Boyz saw off hosts Honduras 2-0 and then held table-topping Canada to a scoreless draw at Kingston’s National Stadium.

Kingston-born centre back Lowe, who recently joined MLS Eastern Conference outfit Inter Miami CF owned by ex-English soccer icon David Beckham, has been a stalwart in defence. The son of former international favourite Onandi Lowe was named in the CONCACAF 2021 Gold Cup Best XI and is often utilised as stand-in skipper for the Boyz.

The fact that this trio were shining stars at international level last year, under former defensively-minded Whitmore, should give the Boyz a welcome boost of confidence.

However, Jamaica will only be playing for pride in this month’s final three World Cup qualifiers, with island-based players being touted to be given a run-out.

  

Interim head coach Paul Hall will be aiming to improve on his results at the helm, having lost all four games since taking over from Whitmore in December.

El Salvador are first up at Kingston. The Boyz then travel to unbeaten Canada before closing their campaign with the visit of rock bottom Honduras.

Antonio, Blake and Lowe are all expected to take a back seat for the rest of the World Cup qualifiers, but should return when Jamaica tackle the CONCACAF Nations League in May.

Click here to vote in the 2021 CONCACAF Best XI categories

CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table (after 11 games): Canada 25pts (+14 goal difference), USA 21pts (+9), Mexico 21pts (+6), Panama 17pts (+1), Costa Rica 16pts (+1), El Salvador 9pts (-7), Jamaica 7pts (-8), Honduras 3pts (-17)

Jamaica’s remaining matches
El Salvador (h) 24 March, Canada (a) 27 March, Honduras (h) 30 March

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