ON November 16, 1997, then Prime Minister PJ Patterson announced a public holiday, which was celebrated joyously by the nation, after the Reggae Boyz, under the leadership of Captain Horace Burrell, qualified for the FIFA World Cup Finals in France.
However, 15 years later, we have not regained those lofty FIFA heights, even while still dominating the Caribbean islands. We have, somehow, overlooked how to conquer the critical middle-ground of CONCACAF — getting past the perennial leaders Mexico (ranked #19 by FIFA); constantly challenged by the USA (#36) in the last 10 years, followed by dominant Central American teams Costa Rica and Honduras.
In the meantime, we have watched while powerhouses like Panama emerged, while wrongfully assuming that Trinidad and Tobago and Canada are always going to be behind us. Guyana, Cuba and now Antigua and Barbuda should never ever be our equal, or worst yet, defeat us.
Still, we have settled for achieving World Cup qualification as the third best, or fourth-placed play-off option behind the USA and Mexico.
The Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore-led team #63-ranked Boyz have gone some way in attacking this second-class status quo by getting tough away games since last March against the likes of Venezuela (losing 0-2 at home); a series of away games in El Salvador winning (3-2), then losing the next four games in China (0-1), Ecuador (2-5), Colombia (0-2).
Having created a Brazilian camp in May to enter June's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the team was outstanding in defeating Grenada (4-0), Guatemala (2-0) and Honduras (1-0) before bowing out to USA (0-2) in the quarter-finals.
The team ended the year in Honduras (1-2 loss) in October as the Boyz missed the November FIFA Date as the "FIFA Cash for Votes Scandal" loomed large within the region.
The Boyz ended the 2011 season with a record of four wins and seven losses in 11 games (13 goals for and 16 against).
They began this year with two home victories over Cuba (1-0, 3-0), then triumphed away to New Zealand (3-2); drew at home 0-0 with Costa Rica, before clipping Guyana 1-0 in Montego Bay, then losing twice to Panama (0-1 at home and 1-2 away), for a record of four wins, one draw and two losses in seven games (eight goals for and five against).
They, therefore, boast a two-year record of eight wins, one draw and nine losses in 19 games (21 goals for and 21 against).
The latest FIFA World Cup Qualifiers began with Jamaica defeating Guatemala, 2-1, then drawing 0-0 in Antigua to jointly lead the group with USA on four points, though Jamaica have an inferior goal difference by a goal.
Simply put, repeating these two results of winning at home and drawing on the road would propel us to the top of the zone, with eight points from four games, with the USA, on five points, possibly sharing second position.
They must also strive not lose in the two other games — Guatemala away and defeating Antigua at home to total 12 or 14 points.
A historic win over USA
We must therefore target the USA, the second-highest FIFA-ranked team in CONCACAF at this vulnerable moment under a new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, whose team has not yet gelled and is inconsistent in performance while still being outstanding in pedigree, as they modify their team philosophy to a more open, attacking style.
They employ a 'high press', with five or six players hitting the opponents' penalty area to score. Options to counter-attack are numerous with good ball movement, accuracy and precision while retaining team shape.
They have a two-year record of 10 wins, two draws and eight losses in 20 games (23 goals for and 22 against).
Easier said than done
Let us begin by honest self-examination and looking at what the technical staff has said after analysing our disappointing 0-0 result in Antigua and Barbuda.
They mentioned that they already requested of Captain Burrell's JFF to seek more international games in preparation for the USA games on Friday, September 7 in Kingston and Tuesday, September 11 in Columbus, Ohio.
Whitmore exclaimed that he "cannot make omelets, without eggs".
Assistant coach Alfredo Montesso, meantime, expressed a wish for a "creative midfielder with mobility".
We must hit the right targets from early, the JFF technical team, which has worked together for about two-and-a-half years, is quickly out of the blocks but can expect the USA to be highly active as well in this period, with a rich blend of MLS players and European league reps who are on the annual post/preseasonal break.
We must include the best players in Donovan Ricketts, Jermaine Taylor, Shavar Thomas, Keammar Daley, Jermaine Hue, Marlon King, Omar Cummings and Darren Mattocks.
On Wednesday, July 25, the MLS All-Star Game takes place in Philadelphia and the JFF could possibly get the players for a game as our MLS players may not be selected and the England-based players are still on break, so another game or a camp could be organised.
Around the time of our 50th Anniversary Celebrations, an Official FIFA Match Date on August 15 means all required players must be available and we could try to squeeze in another game around the same time as the five Norway, Sweden and Turkey-based players would be on a two-week break, as seven England-based players would be in pre-season with restart of the Championship League on August 18.
Captain Burrell recently announced a game against El Salvador in Washington, DC, for that FIFA Date, while the USA announced a game against Mexico in the mighty Azteca on the same date.
Already in the squad are good eggs to make a good omelet. Positioning the best players in the right positions, down the central spine of the team is desired as Donovan Ricketts was the number one choice, but got hurt after only 15 minutes, but mysteriously got married in Montego Bay the next day and did not travel to Antigua as the captain. Is he honestly in or out?
In defence, former captain Jermaine Taylor returned from card suspension, trained and travelled to Antigua, but sat on the bench while both central defenders harmonised well, but did not seem able to possess under pressure, counter-attack, dribble or pass long range accurately, hence removing surprise attacking options needed to aid our speedy attackers.
We have seen mobile midfielder and newly-appointed captain Luton Shelton, Rudolph Austin, playmaker Je-Vaughn Watson and the overlapping Demar Phillips given a free hand to roam, but appear sparingly with dominance only in the Guatemala second half largely due to the opponents' absence in trying to attack, leaving big gaps to exploit.
The obvious choice of using Phillips is inviting, but the unease of seeing a left-back capable only in defence but lacking in genuine wing-back experience at this level, quickly brings back dark memories of the recent Montego Bay debacle against Guyana.
What we really need are genuine playmakers with crafty footwork; speed of thought under pressure; experience; vision to conceive plays and skill to execute timely passes to the potent strikers to make "omelets out of eggs". Ask yourself why an immobile Jason Morrison has performed well recently.
Keammar Daley has been the number one creative midfielder over the last 18 months, so get him ready now.
Like Keammar, Jermaine Hue is the other genuine playmaker who dominated in the team recently in Montego Bay with a multitude of central penetrative passes to Dino Williams. As the only midfielder with a natural left-foot, his deadball accuracy options to score, plus cutting in from the right to kick or pass must be seriously used as a substitute or a starter at times.
Marlon King is the international class striker to lead the attack. If he is not committed to the cause, leave him out. Omar Cummings, if fit again, works well. Importantly, move Shelton closer to goal more often — his speed burns hot; his leading 30 goals speak volumes — and position him high up the field for mobility to get on to through passes behind the opponents defensive lines and the long, quick counter-attacks from goalkeepers and defenders could prove deadly.
Frankly, with Ryan Johnson, Dane Richards, Ricardo Fuller (when fit), Tremaine Stewart, the in-form Darren Mattocks and many others in reserve, this is, by far, the best array of attackers we have ever had.
Let us put the right people in place now and we could win the zone, celebrating in our 50th Anniversary another historic milestone by Match Day Six on October 16 at the National Stadium and extending the already scheduled National Heroes Day Public Holiday on Monday, October 15, this time led by a Jamaican coach.
Editor's note: Clyde Jureidini is general manager of Harbour View FC and company secretary of the Premier League Clubs Association.