COLUMBUS, Ohio —Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore appears a changed man.
He offers fewer words, wears his trademark frown in a way never seen before, walks with a brisk stride and gives off the aura of a man on a mission. He is.
The Mission to Rio, Jamaica's promotional tag for the Brazil 2014 World Cup, seems to have consumed this football aficionado. He's unblinking, deliberate, measured and shrewd when he needs to be. One gets the sense that Whitmore sees or scents something that few others do.
It's clear that the Mission to Rio is no joke to this hero of local football. He has been to the great stage as a player back in France 1998, and by all indications, he intends to repeat as coach. Assuming this is the ambition, what a wonderful dream to have!
Whitmore's testy journey is far from over, but it has spawned early drama, which was poignantly underlined by the sensational and historic 2-1 victory over the USA in Kingston last Friday. Today he and his Reggae Boyz band, on a day of mourning for Americans commemorating 9/11, will want to keep moving to that beat by handing the Americans back-to-back defeats.
In front of a sold-out 24,000-capacity Columbus Crew Stadium, the Boyz will cross swords with the USA in an 8:00 pm (7:00 pm Jamaica time) kick-off in an encounter that could be decisive from a Jamaican standpoint.
For one, a win would secure their spot in the final round of six from which three teams will automatically advance to Brazil. The fourth-place finisher will engage the Oceana winners for the other spot.
Only the two top teams from these play-offs will progress to the elite group of six.
Still smarting from their shock defeat to a well-oiled Jamaican machinery and desperate to regain lost pride, USA coach Juergen Klinsmann has strengthened his ranks in leaving nothing to chance.
He brings back veteran captain Carlos Boganegro and Steve Cherundolo, both defenders. "Carlos will be back on Tuesday... he will be our captain," said Kilnsmann.
Jamaican tactician Whitmore is aware of the Klinsmann manouvre, but prefers to focus on what he needs to do.
"Klinsmann will be making some adjustments to his team, which we are aware of, and as much as possible we just want to look at our options...," he said in responding to questions from Jamaican reporters.
"We know it's going to be a tough game and we're prepared for any and every situation regardless... We have our objectives and that's the bottom line," Whitmore noted.
He said a more consistent delivery will be required as the team did not play two fully productive halves last Friday. "Basically, consistency is going to be a key," he reiterated.
Apart from a hostile crowd, it is expected that temperatures in this Midwestern city could dip to the low 50s — factors that are anticipated to have a negative impact on the Boyz. But Whitmore doesn't think so.
"We have taken into consideration the situation here and I think we are ready for it... we want to win and that's where our head is come tomorrow (today)," he said.
At press time, he was not prepared to name a starting 11, though there were no known injuries heading into last night's training session at the match venue. While all the players who started the game maybe available for tonight, Whitmore is keeping his options open.
"I don't agree about not changing a winning team... the doctor is seeing all 11 players who started the game. After we get a report from the doctor, then we will see what will be the approach for the game," he said.
Those starting Friday's match, and could possibly figure again today, are Dwayne Miller, Adrian Mariappa, Nyron Nosworthy, Jermaine Taylor, Lovel Palmer, Je-Vaugn Watson, Jason Morrison, Kavin Bryan, Ryan Johnson and goalscorers Rodolph Austin and Luton Shelton.
But playing in the USA on familiar ground, there could also be important roles for USA-based Dane Richards, Omar Cummings, Darren Mattocks, Dicoy Williams and Shavar Thomas.
Whitmore said while he thinks the Kingston show "was a perfect delivery" for getting the win, there is always room for improvement.
"I have said before it's a progression and will want to pick-up where we left off on Friday night," he said.
He said the approach in part "is not to give them any time to play". "It will be the same treatment... and to show them that we are not scared either in Jamaica, Brazil or anywhere else; it's the same treatment," he said.
Meanwhile, Klinsmann said the thought of losing to Jamaica in consecutive games is not an option. "We won't lose," he said. "Pressure is always there in professional sport and expectations are high."
In his efforts to counter the Jamaican threat, Klinsmann conceded that training "has been very good".
"The players are focused as we work on doing some things better than we did in Jamaica. In that game our passing wasn't clean enough, plus there were other points which we have to do better on," he said.
Jamaica (from) — Dwayne Miller, Jacomeno Barrett, Duwayne Kerr, Adrian Mariappa, Nyron Nosworthy, Lovel Palmer, Je-Vaughn Watson, Rodoplh Austin, Jason Morrison, Jermaine Taylor, Luton Shelton, Kavin Bryan, Shavar Thomas, Dicoy Williams, Andrae Campbell, Jason Morrison, O'Brian Woodbine, Omar Cummings, Darren Mattocks, Ewan Grandison, Joel Senior, Dane Richards and Tramaine Stewart.
USA (from) — Tim Howard, Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez, Jermaine Jones, Michael Pankhurst, Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodison, Fabian Johnson, Jonathan Spector, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Orozco, Steve Cherundolo, Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Brad Guzman, Danny Williams, Jose Torres, Terrence Boyd, Graham Zusi and Sean Johnson.