Reggae Boyz, USA lock horns in fourth-straight Concacaf Gold CupSunday, July 25, 2021
DALLAS, United States — DEJA vu!
Another Concacaf Gold Cup and another meeting between growing rivals Jamaica and the USA.
The Reggae Boyz go into today's Concacaf Gold Cup quarter-final contest with varying odds, statistics, and localised factors against them.
To begin with, the USA outrank Jamaica in Fifa by 25 places — the Boyz at 45th and USA 20th.
In 20 meetings the USA have won 12, Jamaica three and five have ended in draws.
They last met in a friendly international on neutral ground in Austria last March, with the Americans winning 4-1.
Their last Gold Cup meeting was the 2019 semi-finals in Nashville, Tennessee, where the USA won 3-1.
Before that, the Boyz were beaten 1-2 in the 2017 final by the Americans in Santa Clara. But in the 2015 edition, Jamaica eliminated the hosts 2-1 in the semi-finals in Atlanta.
For today's meeting, the hosts will have their 12th man, as the 80,000-capacity AT&T Stadium is expected to be humming with majority American support when the cracker of a game gets going at 8:30 pm Jamaica time.
In the other quarter-final match of the double-header, Costa Rica and Canada will kick off at 6:00 pm.
But what the Boyz certainly don't lack going into the contest against the Concacaf giants is a resilience that has been demonstrated in their previous games. More importantly, they have no fear of the Americans.
En route to the knockout stages, the USA topped Group B on nine points with victories over Haiti (1-0), Martinique (6-1) and Canada (1-0). Jamaica finished Group C second with six points following wins over Suriname (2-0) and Guadeloupe (2-1). The Boyz lost their final match 0-1 to group winners Costa Rica.
If the intensity in the Boyz' last three training sessions at the University of Dallas complex is anything go by, then Gregg Berhalter's men could be in for a wild ride.
After three Group C games prior, one of the positive things that has come out of that phase of the competition is the depth in Jamaica's squad.
Selecting the starting 11 is never going to be as straightforward as it was before as several “second-string” players have raised their stakes by their performances.
This coming of age of a few players was profoundly on display in the final group match against Costa Rica in Orlando.
Even though they lost the game 0-1, the Boyz put in a polished shift in what has been hailed as their best performance yet.
Interestingly, Head Coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore had made eight changes from the previous match against Guadeloupe, and it was these new starters who came to the fore and spearheaded the fine delivery.
Few people would want to be in the Jamaica coach's shoes as he would have much to ponder when he settles on his final starting roster.
“That's the kind of headache any coach would want to have,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
Any direction the coach decides to go, Captain Andre Blake is sure to start. In the centre of defence the consistent Damion Lowe should be a sure pick, and he will be supported by either Liam Moore or Adrian Mariappa, or even both, depending on the formation.
The race for full back positions makes for an intriguing story as tried and proven Alvas Powell and Oniel Fisher have presented strong cases for selection. The same can be said of the left back position, with veteran Kemar Lawrence and newcomer Amari'i Bell presenting viable options.
With Leon Bailey returning to full training yesterday the possibilities are wide open in midfield. For sure, Michael Hector, Daniel Johnson, Blair Turgott, Tyreek Magee, and Devon Williams will be in the coach's thoughts.
But up front there could be a toss-up among Shamar Nicholson, Corey Burke, Andre Gray and Junior Flemmings.
Though a repeat of the standard of their last performance may not guarantee victory, it would certainly put the Boyz on their way.
If there is one thing they need not bring forward from the Costa Rica contest, it is profligacy in front of goal. It is thought that if the Boyz can get that right, then victory could be theirs.
Since arriving in Dallas the focus in training has been on improving ball possession, combination plays and finishing. At yesterday's final workout they even practised penalties, clearly preparing for all eventualities in case the score cannot be settled in free flow.
Some football watchers argue that the USA team is some way off its best as it's missing a few key players including Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic.
But for Whitmore, Jamaica are playing the USA – irrespective of “personnel”.
“It doesn't matter [the players they have] because we are playing against the USA, so it doesn't matter the personnel as we just have to go out there and build on the last game. And that is going to be important,” he said.
Meanwhile, Assistant Coach Paul Hall says the Boyz will need little motivation as the sense of occasion and the size of the match-up should be enough to fire them up.
“You have to be prepared psychologically. This is probably the easiest game, and as you saw the intensity [in training] as everybody is looking forward to the game. If you have to try and prepare somebody psychologically for this game then they shouldn't be playing, because they don't come much bigger than this.
“So, it's not a point of trying to psychologically prepare them, it's about keep reminding them of their jobs, keep reminding them of how well they played in the last game, keep reminding them to take their chances and to make sure that we are not easy to beat even though the odds [exist],” he said.
Hall, who himself was a striker for Jamaica, wants to impress upon the team's strikers that even though they may not be scoring, they should remain relevant in the game by impacting other aspects of play.
“Sometimes as strikers you may be going through a drought, but what's important is that your team functions and how you help the team go forward, as there are a lot of things to do to help the team win.
“If we win one-nil and it comes from a defender, it doesn't matter. What matters is that we are winning football matches and we are controlling football matches as well,” he stated.
Hall noted that while some things obviously favour the home team, the Boyz must focus on their game and the things that they can control.
“They [the USA] will have an expectancy because they are at home, and they will want to win and control the game. They will be the same as we would expect as they have quality all around the park.
“But for me, I try not to think about them; I prefer to think about what we are doing and to make sure we are not surprised by anything they do,” he ended.
The USA, meantime, will look to bring the fight on home turf through attackers Daryl Pike and Gyasi Zardes, and midfielders Gianluca Busio, Sebastian Lleget and Eryk Williamson.
If nothing else, a benefit is that many of the Boyz would be familiar with some of these names having rubbed shoulders with them in Major League Soccer.
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