Boyz man up to Gold Cup challenge
Wednesday's semi-final win by the Reggae Boyz over the USA is now a matter of history. It's paradoxical to say that it was an upset, yet not entirely unexpected. The Reggae Boyz have never beaten the USA on their own soil before. We have never been to the final of the Gold Cup before. That both should happen on the same night is sweet. But we shouldn't be entirely surprised.
There was something about this match, this time, that gave the sceptics - and I must admit that I was among them - some hope long before kick-off. I said as much on my radio show the day of the game. One local betting company was offering $7 on a Jamaican win. It was too tempting to pass that up.
While the USA were deserving favourites, there was enough there to suggest that they could lose to this Jamaican team, and I had to wager a little something on a Reggae Boyz win. I must admit that I'm a little better off since Wednesday night!
This team has been playing with a lot of heart and determination from the Caribbean Cup late last year. This Jamaican team is unlikely to 'ball' a team. They are not going to mesmerise anyone with deft passing and magical touches. Only occasionally are you likely to see breathtaking goals. Against the best teams in CONCACAF, we always have to live with the fact that we will be outpossessed.
Full marks for Schäfer
At their best, the Reggae Boyz are a hard-running, tough-tackling team that's solid defensively and has pace up front that can hurt you if you allow them to. No coach yet has managed to make us outplay the top CONCACAF teams since I have been following the Reggae Boyz. The best the coach can do is to pick the right players, motivate them, and put them on the park as a united bunch. It is here that Schäfer deserves full marks.
Unlike in previous years, there haven't been any glaring omissions. At one time or another recently, people like Walter Boyd, Onandi Lowe, Khari Stephenson, 'Tuffy' Anderson, Jermaine Hue, Ricardo Fuller, and Luton Shelton were obvious selections and yet left out for one reason or other. This time around, there isn't anybody who is not involved who you feel has an overwhelming case to be selected. The hoary-haired German and Miguel Coley, his Jamaican assistant, must be commended.
The team is obviously playing as a cohesive and determined unit. Again, that must not be taken lightly. I have seen national teams in the past where the players appeared to be simply going through the motions. No one can claim that the overseas-born footballers are playing without a certain level of motivation. Not this bunch. What they lack in technical ability, they are making up with intensity.
People still insist that the Reggae Boyz should consist of local players who ply their trade in the Red Stripe Premier League. One school of thought expressed not so long ago is that they weren't really committed, almost like they weren't real Jamaicans because they didn't eat curry goat and jerk pork!
I watched Giles Barnes' celebration after his goal against Haiti in the quarter-finals, and again against the USA on Wednesday. Look at the reaction of Jobi McAnuff and Garath McLeary when they scored. They are not faking it. They are just as loyal to the cause as 'Taxi' Lawrence playing at left back. After Wednesday night's performance, that thought should be scrapped for good.
There may well be another reason the team is doing so well. It's an open secret that the Reggae Boyz had stuck up the JFF prior to the start of last year's Caribbean Cup. By the time the dust settled, each player was guaranteed somewhere in the region of J$1 million for winning the tournament. This time, the players also had their demands. They wanted 100 per cent of the earnings from the Gold Cup, somewhere in the region of US$1 million if they won.
The Captain had to 'bow' to their demands. If you divide US$1 million by 23 players, you get US$43,000 plus! If we beat Mexico in the final on Sunday, each player will pocket more than J$4 million. Money doesn't just make the mare run, but, apparently, it makes the Reggae Boyz play well.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.