National senior men's football team Head Coach Heimir Hallgrímsson says Dujuan "Whisper" Richards was left out of the squad to face Mexico on Sunday to take pressure off him.
Hallgrímsson named a 23-man squad on Monday which will travel to Mexico City and meet the hosts of their final Concacaf Nations League group game.
But Richards, who debuted and featured in two international friendly games against Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) last week, was not named, like Captain Andre Blake and Michail Antonio. While the latter are missing through injury, Hallgrímsson says Richards, who recently signed a pre-contract for English Premier League side Chelsea, was left out because he needs to focus on his personal life at the moment.
"We considered him, like others, for this camp," Hallgrímsson said during a virtual press conference on Monday. "The reason we did not was that there's a lot of things going on in his life. He's making a big move to a big club. Chelsea, they don't sign average players so it just shows how they think of him.
"He's moving to another country, he's changing clubs, so there's a lot of things going on in his mind. So, we also need to protect a player like this. Don't put too much load and pressure on him at this stage.
"But it's like many of the other players. We know, at least think we know, after this week what they can give us now and in the future, so for sure you will see him again in the national team. There's no pressure on him. We don't want to put pressure on this kid."
But Hallgrímsson says he was pleased with his performance in the games against T&T.
"We were really happy with him, really happy with him," he said. "Just remember, I was criticised for picking him. Some thought that was a silly thing to do. He did really well for a 17-year-old. For sure the future is his if he continues to work hard — that is no doubt in our minds as a coaching staff. He's not the final product, of course, but I believe he will be a national player for Jamaica in the future, and I guess in the close future."
The Reggae Boyz and Mexico played to a 1-1 draw the last time they met — which was also in the Nations League — at the National Stadium last June. A draw is also the best result the Reggae Boyz have ever earned at Azteca Stadium, but Hallgrímsson says they intend to win on Sunday.
"Of course we have big respect for Mexico," he said. "I watched them for two games in the World Cup — aeally aggressive team attacking-wise. Quick, skilful, especially the top three players. Really attacking-minded, pressing team. So, it's a lot of things that we need to be aware of when we go to Mexico but we are not shy to say we are going there to win because it's a truly important game for us. It's a Nations League match so if we win, we go to a semi-final and a final in the Nations League so we have a chance to win a trophy. Secondly, we will get a semi-final and a final in June — really good preparation matches for the Gold Cup. Thirdly, it's a good prep for the players in the USA before we go to the Gold Cup. It's a must-win game and only a win can get us to the semi-final so we go there with a plan to win in Mexico. If we are successful or not, we will see because we expect Mexico to win in the [other group] game against Suriname.
Hallgrímsson is still without a win after four games with the team but those results were not without unusual circumstances surrounding them. The first was a 3-0 loss to eventual world champions Argentina, then a 1-1 draw with hosts Cameroon, with Jamaica featuring many locally based players in an overseas game for the first time in their careers. The other results were a loss and draw with T&T, with Jamaica featuring mainly locally based and England-based players, many making their international debuts. In spite of this, the public has started to question Hallgrímsson's credentials.
In response he says that those games had different priorities for him as he experimented with players, unlike this fixture against Mexico where being in a tournament means the first priority is winning every game possible.
"This is a different assignment, a different task, a different kind of match," he said. "This is a tournament game so, of course, that is the priority — and it is highly important for us. It would help us a lot to win, to go through in the semi-final of the Nations League; that would give us two good preparation matches for the Gold Cup. It's always better to play official matches rather than friendlies."
Amal Knight, Jahmali Waite
Defenders — Amari'i Bell
Ethan Pinnock, Dexter Lembikisa, Adrian Mariappa
Damion Lowe, Richard King
Javain Brown, Kemar Lawrence
Midfielders — Jonathan Russell, Demario Phillips, Kevon Lambert, Daniel Johnson, Ravel Morrison, Kaheem Parris
Forwards — Jamal Lowe,
Cory Burke, Shamar Nicholson,
Trivante Stewart, Leon Bailey