Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Orville Higgins | From Boyz to men

Published:Friday | July 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The Gold Cup is over and the Jamaican public now has a chance to look back at the performance of the team. Not too many of us would have predicted that we would have gone all the way to the final, especially after that loss to Curacao in the Caribbean Cup.

This team, comprising a roster of fully Jamaica-born players, definitely overachieved. We have to bask in the achievement of this bunch, but that doesn't mean that all is well. In many ways, the Gold Cup demonstrated the best and worst of Jamaica's football.

On the plus side, we played with a lot of guts and heart. When the Reggae Boyz are at their best, that is one key ingredient. We have always been robust and sturdy, and when we are committed, we can be a difficult team to break down.

I heard the commentator saying Wednesday night that we had less than 40 per cent possession throughout the tournament. To concede only two goals before the final, when the opposition had so much of the ball, was testament to a stout-hearted defensive effort. It was also because of the brilliance of Andre Blake.

I have mentioned it before that on current form, Andre must be among the best keepers in the game. I will go further. No other Reggae Boy that I have watched (and I'm going back to the 1980s) has been so outstanding in a series of consecutive games. None of our more-talked-about players - Boyd, Lowe, Bibi, etc - has ever been quite as brilliant in a tournament or group of qualifiers.

 

Happy balance

 

It was obvious that this was a team that was giving their all. I have seen them play on many occasions, over recent years, when it appeared they were merely honouring the fixture. Not this time. This team was determined and passionate right from the very start and 'Tappa' must be given his kudos. His man-management skills have improved significantly. He has found the happy balance between being the poker-faced taskmaster, and the laid-back guy with whom the players are comfortable. The players are now willing to give their best for him, which is always a coach's hardest job.

Whitmore has definitely grown into his role. I was among his critics at different stages. At one point, he gave the impression of being too aloof, of being too unwilling to face the media. I remember telling him a few months ago that his job was not merely to coach the team, but to sell them to a nation. He has matured. He now engages the media more. His interviews are precise and genuine. He is far more intelligent and smarter than we give him credit for. We always loved Whitmore the player. We are now getting to love Whitmore the coach.

With all the high-fiving, there's a lot that we need to do better on the field. Our passing is ordinary. Sometimes you want to tear your hair out when we opt to dribble, rather than pass, our way out of trouble. Our ability to run well off the ball leaves a whole lot to be desired. Our decision-making in and around the box can look amateurish.

As a defensive group, we are good enough, most times, to withstand the best the opposition can throw at us, but from the midfield up, there is a compelling deficit. We should go back to playing 5-3-2. Formations, as a rule, are overrated, but styles matter. I don't think we are playing the style that suits us best.

Jamaica, for a long while now, are the worst of the top teams in CONCACAF at maintaining possession and knocking it around in the middle of the field. We won't match the other CONCACAF teams in playing 'tiki-taka' football. Our best chances at overcoming our opponents, therefore, must be to maximise our strengths. We are quick and physical. We must play hard football in the middle and utilise the flanks.

The 5-3-2 system allows us to have two overlapping wing backs, while still having defensive coverage in front of goal. Even if we don't have the wing backs overlapping, we may well have to break tradition and play a winger. The wings are often less congested, and I believe that we are at our most dangerous when we are given space and time to run.

The Gold Cup run was good, but we shouldn't get carried away. We still have work to do.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.