FOUR of the eight UK-raised players recently recruited by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) have been included in a 23-man squad named yesterday to face Mexico in the first game of the final phase of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying campaign.
Reading FC's pair of Joel 'Jobi' McAnuff and Garath McCleary, as well as Jermaine Beckford of Huddersfield, and Derby County's Theo Robinson are down to don the black, green and gold colours of Jamaica when they play away to Mexico at the famed Azteca Stadium at 9:30 pm (Jamaica time) next Wednesday.
The eagerly anticipated senior squad, along with that of the National Under-20 outfit to do battle for a place in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup slated for Turkey in the summer, were named at a press conference at the JFF headquarters. The Under-20s will commence their final-round qualifying campaign in Mexico on February 19.
With only three players from the squad based inside the country, the team is understandably short of match preparation, but head coach Theodore Whitmore and his technical staff have skilfully blended enough players from the core of the team he has built over the past few years — though they have only recently resumed pre-season training — as well as returning veterans and experienced, quality new faces. Two youngsters — defender Alvas Powell and midfielder Andre Lewis, both 18 years old — have been included, basically for development, Whitmore stated.
McAnuff is the 31-year-old midfield captain of Reading FC, who first represented Jamaica over 10 years ago, as a 55th-minute forward substitute for Kevin Lisbie against Nigeria in London.
McCleary is a 25-year-old forward, while Beckford, 28, and Robinson, 23, are forwards.
Marvin Elliott, a 27-year-old central midfielder from Bristol City, who debuted for Jamaica away to Honduras in a friendly international just over 15 months ago, has also been recalled.
Also making a return to the squad are Portland Timbers' veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, the 35-year-old who last played for the Reggae Boyz's CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying semi-final opener against Guatemala at the National Stadium last June; the wily midfielder Jermaine 'Teddy' Johnson, the 32-year-old from Sheffield Wednesday, who last played for Jamaica at the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup; Notts County central defender Damion 'Stew Peas' Stewart, also 32 years old, and the 31-year-old Omar Daley, a versatile player from Motherwell in Scotland.
Players from the core group during the last round to have made the cut are goalkeeper Dwayne Miller (Syrianska); defender Nyron Nosworthy (Watford); Adrian Mariappa, defender of Reading FC; midfielder/forward Tremaine Stewart, midfielder Jason Morrison and defender Demar Phillips, all of Aalesund; midfielder Rodolph Austin of Leeds United; winger Dane Richards of Burnley; defender Jermaine Taylor of Houston Dynamo; striker Ryan Johnson of Portland Timbers and Harbour View's midfielder Jermaine Hue.
The squad is completed by goalkeeper DuWayne Kerr, who is unattached.
Whitmore again made a clarion call for the entire country to support the players as they battle for one of the three automatic tickets from this final round of six countries to the Brazil 2014 World Cup Finals. The fourth-placed finisher in the home-and-away fixture will play-off against the Oceania winner for another spot in the Finals.
Prior to the announcement of the 23-man squad, Whitmore expressed concern at the limited time to prepare the team, but said he was "confident in the quality of the players assembled".
"The World Cup campaign will not be easy, neither will the selection of the squad," Whitmore said. He added: "This is not Captain Burrell's team... this is not Theodore Whitmore's team or the JFF's team, it is your team, it represents the people of the Diaspora and it represents the people of the Caribbean," Whitmore said.
He also noted that despite the challenges where a number of the players are largely unfamiliar with each other, and the high possibility of no more than two training sessions, the thought of losing doesn't enter his mind. "Football today is different, and if we think about losing the game even before it is played, then we might as well not take the field."
Meanwhile, Captain Burrell, president of the JFF, declared that it will cost the Federation about $20 million to cover this assignment. He added that the bulk of the expenditure is due to transportation costs, which will be increased significantly as the UK-based players will travel business class, on this occasion, as the JFF pulls out all the stops to make the players as comfortable as possible.
The national Under-20 squad comprises goalkeepers — Rashaun Patterson and Nico Campbell; defenders — Alvas Powell, Zhelano Barnes, Javaun Waugh — son of former Reggae Boy Clifton Waugh, Kereen Manning, Shawn Lawes, Damion Lowe — son of another Reggae Boy Onandi Lowe, Sean McFarlane; midfielders — Rickardo Oldham, Romario Jones, Omar Holness, Keneil Kirlew, Andre Lewis, Mark Brown, Andrew Allen; forwards — Paul Wilson, Oshana Boothe, Cleon Pryce and Kendan Anderson.