Click here to print page

Fitness scrutiny

Whitmore's Boyz take aim at Cayman

BY IAN BURNETT
Sport Editor

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Jamaica will be gunning for victory when they open the qualifying phase of the Concacaf Nations League against the Cayman Islands inside the National Stadium in Kingston today at 7:00 pm.

The 68-match qualifying phase will be conducted during the FIFA windows of September, October and November of this year, and next March.

After the Cayman Islands today, Jamaica will next play away to Bonaire in Curacao in October, return home to face Suriname in November, then travel to play El Savador in Central America.

The top-10 teams on points at the end of the qualifying phase will join the six teams which contested the 2018 FIFA World Cup Hexagonal — Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, United States of America, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago — in the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Jamaica contested the last two editions of the Gold Cup finals, losing to Mexico 1-3 in 2015 and 1-2 to the United States last year.

The Jamaicans returned to the island yesterday morning merely hours after a 0-2 loss in a training game against Ecuador inside Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

In that game Head Coach Theodore Whitmore paraded a team comprising of majority home-based players, as he kept an open eye on today's more important encounter.

Of the 22-man roster which prepared at Red Bull training facility last week, only five players were left on the bench for the entirety of Friday's game against the South Americans — captain Andre Blake, Adrian Mariappa, Darren Mattocks, Cory Burke, and Kemar Lawrence.

They are all expected to play from the opening whistle today, and those to complement them would have been determined following yesterday's scheduled training session at the game's venue.

“We will have a recovery session this afternoon (yesterday) and then look forward to the game on Sunday, which is the most important because it will take us into the Gold Cup, so we have to be on our A game come tomorrow (today),” Whitmore told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“I want to put the strongest 11 (on the pitch), but I will have to see how the players who participated last night (Friday night), how they feel to select an 11 from that,” he added.

Whitmore will also be without a designated right wing back, as Alvas Powell was released from the team in midweek after he aggravated a groin injury. He was sent back to his Portland Timbers club for treatment, and Jamaica's team doctor Cary Fletcher said the player could miss up to a month out of action.

With that being the case, Whitmore could be forced to employ veteran defender Adrian Mariappa at right wing back, with Damion Lowe and Michael Hector — who was given almost an hour Friday night — in central defence, and Lawrence occupying his customary left wing back position.

Je-Vaughn Watson is definitely expected in midfield, while Mattocks and Burke are almost guaranteed starting roles in attack, but the rest of the squad will be dependent on the level of recovery by those who laboured hard on Friday night. Blake will tend goal.

In a dozen meetings between the two sides, Jamaica have dominated their Caribbean neighbours, winning 10, losing one, and drawing once. But it was that shock 2-3 loss in a Caribbean Cup qualifier in the Cayman Islands in 1994 which stands out like a sore thumb.

And Whitmore and Captain Blake want to guard against any recurrence of that result anytime soon.

“It is my duty now for us to remain focused and look at the task at hand, so I don't think that complacency will be a problem. I think we have professional players here and they would know what is at stake,” warned a stern head coach.

Meanwhile, Blake, arguably the best goalkeeper in the American Major League Soccer at the Philadelphia Union, wants to leave nothing to chance.

“It's a very important game and all the guys know what is at stake and we know whenever we play these teams they always bring their A game and I think the guys have been focused and those who played last night (Friday night) got some valuable minutes. Some of the guys got to wet their feet a bit to see what it's really like at international level, so I think that's very good for us.”

He continued: “I think for the senior guys, this is one of the most focused I've ever seen them and I think it comes with maturity, as the guys have started to mature and to make better decision, which is going to help the team. I think we have a group of guys who have the right mindset.”

And regarding complacency, he said: “Very, very important, and at some point today (yesterday) I'm going to need to gather the troops to make sure that no one is taking this game for granted. This could be a tricky game and football has changed and anybody can beat anybody right now. You can get a goal and you 'park the bus' and somehow lose or concede, so anything can happen. so we are going to have to put in a very professional performance, whether we go up 1-0 or go down 1-0, because anything can happen. We just going to have to approach the game the right way and with the right mindset,” he concluded.

Jamaican squad: Andre Blake, Amal Knight, Jeadine White, Adrian Mariappa, Michael Hector, Kemar Lawrence, Damion Lowe, Ladale Richie, Ricardo Thomas, Fabion McCarthy, Tevin Shaw, Kevon Lambert, Rivardo Morris, Owayne Gordon, Peter-Lee Vassell, Romario Williams, Darren Mattocks, Cory Burke, Javon East, Fabian Reid, Je-Vaughn Watson, Alex Marshall.