Texas heat

Boyz face El Salvador in crucial Gold Cup encounter

IAN BURNETT
SPORT EDITOR
WITH THE REGGAE BOYZ
IN HOUSTON, TEXAS

Friday, June 21, 2019

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HOUSTON, Texas — Jamaica's senior men's football team, the Reggae Boyz, will look to consolidate their place atop their group when they oppose joint leaders El Salvador in the opening game of today's double-header inside BBVA Stadium here at 6:00 pm.

In the second game slated for two and a half hours later, top Honduras engage Curacao, looking to rebound from their 2-3 loss to Jamaica inside Kingston's National Stadium on Monday evening.

Curacao had lost 0-1 to El Salvador.

Jamaica lead the four-team Group C with three points, the same as El Salvador, with Honduras and Curacao pointless after just one round of games.

The four teams will depart for Los Angeles tomorrow for the third and final preliminary phase games inside Banc of California Stadium next Tuesday when Jamaica close out against Curacao at 6:00 pm before Honduras oppose El Salvador.

The top two teams advance to the quarter-finals on June 30 in Philadelphia, where the winners of Group C oppose the runners-up from Group D, and the winners of Group D face the runners-up from Group C.

Victory for either Jamaica or El Salvador would push them to the brink of qualification to the knockout round with six points and Head Coach Theodore Whitmore is fully cognisant of what is required from his team, which was beaten 2-0 by today's opponents when the teams last met in March in the final round of Nations League qualifiers.

“Both ourselves and El Salvador have won our first games and to progress, this represents a very important game. We are looking forward to it, the players are upbeat, so all in all we expect a good game,” Whitmore told the Jamaica Observer at the end of his team's final training session yesterday.

And the former Reggae Boyz standout was also unperturbed by the fact that his team was beaten by EL Salvador when they last met.

“Two different tournaments, and our main objective here is to come out the group and we have the Salvadoreans in front of us now, so they are our main targets. Despite what happened in the past, we are only focusing on a positive result tomorrow afternoon.”

Whitmore managed to observe El Salvador for a short time against Curacao on Monday, and while he maintains the highest level of respect for them, his aim is to set up a team to be better than them.

“I saw a little bit, but going into a tournament you have to adjust, and based on what I saw against Curacao, you have to give them a lot of respect for what they are doing, but we have to put a team together that go out there and do better than what they are doing.”

And while Jamaica came away with the result on Monday, there is a school of thought that they were unconvincing. Whitmore identified some areas of weakness and is hoping to correct them with personnel changes.

Based on his training session yesterday, midfielder Andre Lewis and winger Junior Flemmings were drafted into the first team at the expense of Devon Williams and Peter Lee Vassell.

“The game against Honduras we had some glitches, so that is something that we want to fix and we know that the Salvadoreans are good at running off the ball, so we need people who track back to avert that danger, so that is the main thing behind the changes.”

El Salvador employed a 4-1-4-1 formation against Curacao on Monday and are known for their ball possession style of play and intricate off-the-ball movements.

They appeared cautious after their first half stoppage time goal by striker Nelson Bonilla, as they seemed content to see out the game, though they created seven shots on target.

With the addition of Flemmings and Lewis, Jamaica appear set to retain their 4-3-3 formation with captain Andre Blake in goal, behind Kemar Lawrence, Shaun Francis, Damion Lowe and Alvas Powell in defence. Michael Hector is expected to join Lewis and Flemmings in the middle with Leon Bailey, Brian Brown and Dever Orgill, who netted a brace, his first goals for Jamaica at the senior level, the front trio tasked with getting the goals.

But even as the Boyz target El Salvador on the field of play, off-the-field issues with the local federation continue to dog them.

On Tuesday the team arrived at the Norman Manley International Airport late for a charter flight to Houston, as the players refused to board the bus from the hotel as they sought clarification and agreement from their bosses.

Prior to yesterday's session at Episcopal High School Whitmore encouraged his players to remain focused on the task at hand as anything less could spell danger.

“I held a team meeting with them for the first time this morning (yesterday), trying to address some of the happenings because to be honest with you I was lost because what I was thinking was that it was an issue with the Gold Cup and earlier this morning I held a meeting with the captain [Andre Blake], the manager [Roy Simpson] and head of delegation [Gregory Daley] just to familiarise myself with what was happening and to my surprise it was some money from the game against USA.

“At the meeting with the players, a long 15-minute meeting which is unusual for me, because that's not my style before a training session, I really addressed the team to ensure that we keep focused and look at the bigger picture going forward and I think the message has reached the players, so come tomorrow afternoon I only hope to see that displayed on the field and not any off-the-field distractions to hinder our performance on the field,” explained Whitmore.

The coach is now guarded about saying he's satisfied with the team's preparation, as he was up to Tuesday morning only for another issue to arise which almost derailed the campaign.

“I wouldn't say satisfied, from my point of view, because I was satisfied up to Tuesday morning leaving only to hear that the players weren't coming, so from my point of view I could say yes everything is okay, but I don't know what tomorrow or later may bring.”

Probable team: Andre Blake, Kemar Lawrence, Shaun Francis, Damion Lowe, Alvas Powell, Michael Hector, Andre Lewis, Junior Flemmings, Leon Bailey, Dever Orgill and Brian Brown.

The squad is completed by Dwayne Miller, Amal Knight, Jamoi Topey, Devon Williams, Malique Foster, Ricardo Morris, Darren Mattocks, Shamar Nicholson, Peter Lee Vassell, Je-Vaughn Watson, Tyreek Magee, Kevon Lambert.


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