Revisit Simoes' legacy
Like the almost three million people who live in Jamaica, and maybe a similar number outside of the country, I was disappointed, nay, upset, about the 3-0 loss by the Reggae Boyz to Costa Rica. I didn't expect us to win, but a 3-0 margin, when goal difference could still prove to be decisive, was a little too much for me.
It's not yet curtains for the Reggae Boyz as far as Russia is concerned. It may well come down to the little matter of winning our last two games, away to Panama and at home to Haiti. As long as Costa Rica take care of business against Panama in their final game, that would be good enough to get into the final round.
It's possible, and at the moment, we have an even chance. We should beat Haiti at home, but it's a little tricky beating Panama away. This Panama team is a good one. Had it not been for some curious umpiring decisions, they would have made it to the Gold Cup finals.
For us to beat Panama away, though, we need to make some radical, strategic decisions. The formation favoured by coach Winfried Schäfer is 4-5-1. For the most part, this formation has served us reasonably well. We did creditably in the Copa America, losing by 1-0 margins to some of football's biggest teams. We got to the final of the Gold Cup, and we also won the Caribbean Cup in Jamaica a little while back. Schäfer's record, then, isn't bad. The cruel nature of international football might mean that he will lose his job if we fail to qualify, but his tenure has not been as bad as people may think.
When we do badly, like losing to Panama 1-0 and Nicaragua 3-2 at the National Stadium, one could point to restiveness over salaries or an under-strength team. So none of what I will say next is an indictment against the coach. It's more a suggestion than an ultimatum.
I genuinely believe that Jamaica should go back to the days of 5-3-2 that we so successfully used in the lead-up to our successful 1998 campaign. Formations, as a rule, don't win football games. Better players on better teams will win most of the time, but I believe that formations give teams better chances.
It is obvious that when we play against the better CONCACAF teams, they generally win the midfield battle. They have players who are better technically, pass better, control the ball better, run into space better, move more quickly and decisively, and invariably create better goal-scoring opportunities than do the Reggae Boyz. Packing our midfield with five players hasn't really helped us win the battle of the midfield. Maybe the time has come to go back to the Simoes blueprint of the 5-3-2.
When Simoes came here, he told us that he would teach us the secrets of Brazilian football. Brazilians are known for their flair and passing game. Soon after he came, he realised that our players simply do not have the technical capacity to play that kind of football. Maybe it was then that he decided to institute the three central defenders, with 'Tatty' Brown playing sweeper. Those three hard men in defence, including 'Pepe' Goodison and Linval Dixon, were the real pillars of the team.
We didn't 'ball' teams, but we didn't concede too many goals, especially at home. By playing two overlapping wing backs, we used to concentrate a lot of our attacks down the flanks. That classic goal by Robbie Earle from a 'Bibi' Gardner cross in our first World Cup game in 1998 was exactly the kind of goal that the team set itself up to score. We didn't try to play pretty football by outpassing teams.
We had that extra man in central defence, blocked teams out, and tried to score the odd goal. We accept that we wouldn't win the tiki-taka battle. Peter Cargill, in that holding midfield role, could be frustrating with his penchant for turning the ball back defensively, but at home, no team really ran rampant against us.
My advice for the coach is to go back to what worked. Certainly, in our game against Panama away, 5-3-2 is our best chance. Against Haiti at home, even if we played 8-1-1, we should win. Formations, then, shouldn't matter.
Simoes left a great legacy, including his 'Jesus saves' shirt. We may yet need divine intervention, but perhaps we should go back to his biggest legacy - that 5-3-2 formation.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.