'Office' set to explode with Gold Cup novelty

History unfolds as Boyz bow into action against Honduras; El Salvador face Curacao

By Ian Burnett
Sport editor

Monday, June 17, 2019

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History will unfold inside Kingston's National Stadium this evening with a double-header on Match Day Three of the 2019 edition of the Concacaf Gold Cup Tournament.

The Group C fixture gets under way at 6:00 pm when El Salvador oppose Curacao, and two hours later Jamaica entertain the group's top seed, Honduras.

Today's event will mark the first time the regional flagship event will be hosted in the Caribbean, and only the second time outside of North America, as Costa Rica was the venue of Match Day Two yesterday with a Group B double-header involving Haiti vs Bermuda in the first game, and hosts Costa Rica against Nicaragua in the second game.

The competition kicked off on Saturday with Canada defeating Martinique 4-0 in the opening game, and Mexico blanking Cuba 7-0 in the second.

Jamaica's Reggae Boyz progressed all the way to the championship match on each of the last two editions of the prestigious competition. In 2015, under the guidance of Winfried Schaefer, they edged out the hosts United States 2-1 to book a date with Mexico, before losing 1-3 in Philadelphia.

Two years later they edged an under-strength Mexico side 1-0 on Kemar Lawrence's killer free kick to advance to their second-straight championship match in California, only to lose 1-2 to the hosts.

Now a targeted team, Theodore Whitmore and his technical staff would like to go one better, but should be fully cognisant of the old proverb, which says, “there's many a slip twixt the cup and lip.”

And he is satisfied with the team's progess thus far.

“I'm very pleased with the preparation. We have seen a lot of progress from the last game we played against the USA (June 5). Training has been successful. The only concern so far is [Michael] Hector; but for the last two days he has been through the sessions with us without complaint, so for me it is successful.”

Hector suffered a groin injury during that June 5 game against USA and was a doubt earlier in the week as the team camped out in Montego Bay. However, he has engaged in intense training over the past two days and will undergo a late fitness test.

“Yesterday's (Saturday) session was intense and he has been through it... and this morning (Sunday), so we will just sit and talk with him to find out how he feels about the game tomorrow (today),” added the coach, who advised that if the Sheffield Wednesday FC player is unable to take the field then he has adequate replacements in his 23-man squad.

Alvas Powell, who got married in the US last Friday, was slated to rejoin the team yesterday and should be available for selection, but Whitmore doesn't want the team to feel pressured into matching or indeed surpassing the last cycle's placing.

“We don't want to put ourselves under any undue pressure, as we have been to the Gold Cup finals on the last two occasions, so we want to take it game by game. And for us to reach to this final we have to give a good account of ourselves against this Honduras team which we have at home and that is where my focus is at the moment.”

And the former Reggae Boyz star player did not want to rely too heavily on home ground advantage and crowd support, but more on the team's ability to perform at a consistent level when it really matters.

“It (home ground) doesn't really matter. Despite the condition, we are in the Gold Cup and we have to play. It is a good thing that we have our first game at home [but] we haven't been in 'the Office' for some while — so we have to show what we are made of. For me, consistency is going to be the key coming off a good game against the US team — so I don't think of any way we can drop our form going into the Honduras game.”

In 24 meetings between the teams, Jamaica have lost 12, won seven and drawn five, while in matches played in Jamaica the home side have won four and drawn the others.

In their opening games on 2019, the Reggae Boyz lost 0-2 to El Salvador in their final Concacaf Nations League qualifier to drop to the second division on March 23, and three days later they went down 0-1 to Costa Rica in a friendly in that country.

However, they looked a much-improved side recently against the US when Shamar Nicholson came off the bench to give the team a much-deserved victory with a spanking pile-driver from 22 yards.

And the Boyz have added Bayer Leverkusen flying winger Leon Bailey who should add much-needed punch to the attack, and Whitmore is more than pleased with the wily player's attitude since joining the squad his innate qualities on the pitch, and his leadership off it.

“We can't question the quality or what he has brought to the Jamaican team. He's here to play, he's comfortable, and we have no issues where Leon is concerned; and he's looking forward to play tomorrow [today],” Whitmore told the media yesterday.

“Leon is no stranger to us and he comes here and does what a normal player would do. He's very helpful, he's a team player. He's trying to get involved in any and everything, and, as I said before, you can't question his ability on the field — and off the field he's an excellent kid.”

The Boyz had their last training session at Captain Horace Burrell Centre of Excellence yesterday morning, with emphasis on set plays.

The Central Americans were in the hexoganol of the last Concacaf World Cup cycle, and as such qualified automatically for the First Division of the new Nations League. They missed last summer's Fifa World Cup after being knocked out by Australia in a play-off, hence forcing a period of change since that disappointment.

They have since hired Uruguayan coach Fabion Moito to lead the resurgence and the team appears to be improving, as in their last three outings they ended 0-0 with Ecuador in the US on March 26, drew 1-1 with Paraguay in Paraguay on June 5, before being thrashed 7-0 by Brazil in Brazil, on June 9.

They are captained by former Wigan Athletic fullback, 36-year-old Maynor Figueroa, who now plays for Houston Dynamo. Clubmates Alberth Elis with four goals and Romell Quioto with seven are expected to be two of the chief goalgetters in a team which lacks goals.

“Honduras is always going to be a challenge for us. It's a tounament situation, so we know we have to go out there and play our game,” Whitmore said.

Honduras employed a 4-2-3-1 formation in their recent game against Brazil with Luis Lopez in goal, guarded by Maynor Figueroa, Henry Figueroa, Felix Crisanto, Emilio Izaguirre, Bryan Acosta and Luis Garrido as holding midfielders, with a trio of Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Alexander Lopez, and Roger Rojas as the striker.

For the Reggae Boyz, Whitmore is known for employing a similar 4-2-3-1 formation as was used in the Nations League, but noticeably changed to a 4-3-3 formation against the US.

If the coach so chooses, captain and goalkeeper Andre Blake should start in goal backed by a four-man defence line of Kemar Lawrence, Shaun Francis, Damion Lowe, and Alvas Powell, with Devon Williams, Hector (if fit) and Peter Lee Vassell in the middle and Bailey, Brian Brown and Dever Orgill as the up- top three.

Meanwhile, El Salvador have been busy since the start of the year, beating Guatemala 3-1 and Peru 2-0 in friendly action in the US; defeating Jamaica 2-0 in Nations League qualifier at home on March 23; edging Haiti 1-0 in another friendly in the US, before losing 0-2 to Japan in Asia on June 9.

Curacao, meantime, lost 1-2 to Antigua and Barbuda in their last Nations League qualifier on March 23, before beating India 3-1 and drawing 1-1 with Vietnam on June 5 and 9, respectively, in the King's Cup in Thailand.

And fortunate to have won the confidence of the regional governing body, Concacaf, the local governing body Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), through a press release yesterday, has reminded local fans of the significance of the occasion and importance of having a smooth event with maximum attendance.

And Whitmore has also made the call for local support. “We just urge our people to come out and give us the support, because once our Boyz can see the stadium full to capacity then they know they have to play [well] and rise to the occasion,” he said.

The squad is completed by Amal Knight, Dwayne Miller, Jamoi Topey, Andre Lewis, Maalique Foster, Ricardo Morris, Darren Mattocks, Shamar Nicholson, Junior Flemmings, Je-Vaughn Watson, Tyreek Magee and Kevon Lambert.


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