Boyz Face Canada trial
JA coach Schäfer looks to build pool for Caribbean Cup
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
TORONTO, Canada:The competition for places in Jamaica's squad for this year's Caribbean Cup heats up today when the Reggae Boyz tackle Canada in a friendly football international.
According to head coach Winfried Schäfer, the 7:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. Jamaica time) clash with a CONCACAF rival at BMO Field will provide a vital showcase for players on the bubble of selection for the mid-November regional championships.
"It's a test for them," Schäfer said yesterday.
The players are not only vying for starting roles, but also as insurance for established starters.
"I want to see these players," said Schäfer. " ... I need alternatives. I need a pool."
Among those under the microscope will be Upston Edwards, who naturally plays on the left side of central defence, an area where Schäfer's options are scarce. Midfielder Evan Taylor, once a teenage starter for Jamaica in World Cup qualifiers, is also on trial, especially since regular captain Rudolph Austin misses today's game with a leg injury.
Midfielder Omar Holness, a 20-year-old student at the University of North Carolina in the United States, who led Jamaica at the 2011 Under-17 World Cup, is in line for a senior international debut.
"He was the captain (in Mexico)," said Schäfer. "He was a good player ... I want this player back in the team."
Defender Nicholy Finlayson, forward Jamar Loza and midfielders Kenardo Forbes and Keithy Simpson also come with much to prove. So, too, goalkeeper Ryan Thompson.
Today is Jamaica's first action since a tough four-game tour between May and June, when the Reggae Boyz lost to Serbia (2-1) and Switzerland (1-0), drew 2-2 with Egypt, before being trounced by World Cup-bound France 8-0.
The players believe that stint toughened them for the challenges ahead.
"You could see the progress from game to game," said Simon Dawkins, an attacking player with Derby County. "The belief was just growing."
Ten Boyz who played in at least one of those games are available today. But Darren Mattocks, originally in the 18-man squad, has been ruled out. Schäfer said the striker's Major League Soccer (MLS) club Vancouver Whitecaps is concerned about a foot injury and he prefers not to risk him ahead of the Caribbean Cup.
"Better he stay in his club and get treatment," said Schäfer. "... We don't need him now."
The Boyz will instead look for goals from Dawkins, Loza of Norwich City, Deshorn Brown, of MLS' Colorado Rapids and Jermaine 'Tuffy' Anderson.
Ahead of yesterday's training session, Schäfer had not finalised his starting formation, but plans to go with 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. Je-Vaughn Watson of MLS' F.C. Dallas anchors central midfield with Taylor. Edwards will partner stand-in captain Wes Morgan of Leicester City, with Harbour View's Kemar Lawrence and Alvas Powell of MLS' Portland Timbers occupying the flanks. Andre Blake of MLS' Philadelphia Union will start in goal.
Schäfer wants to harass Canada from the start.
"I want to play pressing," he said. "We have to get more pressure against these teams. We have to be dominant."
Match fitness is key, the reason Schäfer picked five players from local club Waterhouse FC - Anderson, Finlayson, Taylor, Forbes, and Edwards - which have played three games in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Canada's 23-man squad lists professionals scattered across North America and Europe. At least five have Jamaican family connections, including Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan, Julian de Guzman, Tosaint Ricketts and Simeon Jackson. Talisman Dwayne De Rosario is included, plus Atiba Hutchinson, who recently played European Champions League for Besiktas.
The home team may be favoured, although placed 122nd to Jamaica's 85th in FIFA's official world ranking, as the Boyz have never beaten Canada here and have won only four times in 17 meetings between the two.
However, head coach Benito Floro views Jamaica a tough audition for his players as well.
"We've seen several Jamaican games and we consider them to be physically good team," Floro told CanadaSoccer. "This means that technically and tactically it is a very good test for us. It's good for us because we need to test ourselves in Toronto and show that we are progressing and moving up."