Sports

MBU's Underwood focuses on youth

PAUL A REID
Observer Writer

Sunday, September 24, 2017

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TUCKER, St James — Two-time champions Montego Bay United Football Club (MBU FC) will have an almost new look when the 2017-18 Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) gets under way today as Coach Rod Underwood is looking to freshen up the squad by bringing in a raft of new, younger players that he hopes will keep the team close to or at the top of the pile.

Despite a later than usual start to preparation, the American Underwood, who took over the team midway the competition last season, says they have been preparing well and looking to make “a lot of changes”.

The club that qualified for three-straight finals, winning two in the last four seasons, will be without a number of the veterans who have made MBU one of the elite teams in recent years, at least for the start of the competition, but Underwood says they hope not to miss a beat.

Owayne Gordon, who has solidified his place in the Reggae Boyz team, is away on loan to USL outfit San Antonio FC, while Dino Williams, the team's leading scorer over the last three seasons, will be out due to a long-standing groin injury, Underwood said.

Sandra Christie, the club's chief operations officer, told the Jamaica Observer that they have signed “only one transfer away”, Fabian McCarthy, who will join UWI FC, while one other senior player had requested a move away from the WesPow Park-based club, but the team requesting his services had not been able to satisfy the basic transfer fee decided on by the PFAJ.

They have signed “at least 15 new players” Underwood revealed, which could drop their average age to under 24 years old. “We are making a lot of changes, lots of new faces, bringing new guys in, trying to move forward in a different direction,” the American said.

“Young, but still competitive. We are not talking about young just to be young, but it's about being competitive and really a new philosophy. We want to be turning players over, young players come in and do well, we move them on and bring in the next crop; that is the process but they have to be good enough to keep us at the top,” Underwood stressed.

Among some of the new faces are some that played in the Western Confederation Super League last season - Javon McLeod, Raheem Pringle and Hietolah Gardner from Hopewell United, as well as Omar Brown, who was part of their youth academy.

It will not be a complete clearing out of the squad, Underwood said, as the likes of Ladale Richie, Keneil Kirlew and Donovan Carey will still be there, while the evergreen Dwayne Ambusley has put off retirement for one more season.

“Ambusley will have a new role as player/coach,” Underwood said. “He is not retired and that was my decision. We talked about it. I think he is a good leader and he wants to get into coaching, so he is still here and a good voice for the players.”

Two former players, Lesly St Fleur, who missed all of last season, and Jefroy Leslie, who missed at least two seasons as he was studying in Russia, have returned, while Ghanaian central defender Nicholas Amponsah is also in the squad.

Underwood hopes that the fact that he has been here from the preseason will give him a headstart that he never had last season, when he joined the club at the end of the second round, taking over literally days before they hosted their Caribbean Football Union first round group.

“The first order of business is to make the team younger and bring in fresh players — that was the first order of business,” Underwood said. “Every player and every coach has a shelf life. We had a core of players who are here and that shelf life has gone, so we have to freshen up the squad with new players.”

MBU will be hoping to restore their high standards this season after they fell at the quarter-final stage last year in the new format that saw six of the 12 teams qualify for the play-offs.

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