Play-off shutout! Majority of Reggae Boyz not in running for MLS glory
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
What promised to be a breakout year for Jamaicans in Major League Soccer (MLS) fizzled with disappointment as the majority of Reggae Boyz in North America's top football competition were shut out of the 2014 MLS play-offs.
In January, MLS clubs picked a record three Jamaicans in the top 10 of the SuperDraft. Several others eligible to represent Jamaica were scattered among teams considered championship contenders. Hopes for Jamaican impact soared, then faded.
"I'm sure a few of them would say they didn't have the season they wanted," said Jamaican Damani Ralph, agent for several Boyz in MLS.
Injuries and subpar performances drastically restricted some Jamaicans' contribution, and following the end of the regular season over the weekend, only three of more than a dozen national players will be on play-off rosters. The rest were booted into the off season.
Je-Vaughn Watson, having his best MLS season with F.C. Dallas, is the only Jamaican who can realistically hope to play a major role this postseason. More was anticipated, but the Boyz can't totally be blamed, according to Ralph.
"It was a year that Jamaicans were expected to push their teams into the play-offs," he said. "But you can't just single out the Jamaicans. It's a team sport. The team wins and loses."
With the spotlight on them, however, none of three heralded Jamaican rookies shone. Goalkeeper André Blake, the top pick in the SuperDraft, made one league start for Philadelphia Union. Midfielder André Lewis and defender Damion Lowe, both sidelined by injuries, failed to play a MLS minute.
Lewis, chosen seventh by Vancouver Whitecaps, was loaned to lower league club Charleston Battery, where he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Lowe, the eighth pick with Seattle Sounders, hurt his hip and missed months of action.
But rookies weren't the only Jamaicans who failed to help their clubs progress. Perennial title contenders Houston Dynamo, featuring four eligible for national duty - Jermaine Taylor, Omar Cummings, Giles Barnes and Jason Johnson - didn't make the play-offs.
Blake and rookie striker Brian Brown, who joined him mid-season at Philadelphia and scored twice in MLS, will both miss the postseason. So, too, Lovel Palmer, whose Chicago Fire finished ninth in the MLS Eastern Conference, a spot behind Houston and three behind Philadelphia.
D.C. United won the Eastern Conference, but without much contribution from teenager Michael Seaton, who spent 2014 on loan at lower league Richmond Kickers and is unlikely to feature during post-season. Seaton is the only Jamaican listed on a roster among five play-off teams from that conference.
Meanwhile, Seattle topped the MLS Western Conference without Lowe's on-field contribution. He, like Seaton, is unlikely to get play-off time.
Despite another solid season, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and improving defender Alvas Powell are also out of the play-off with Portland Timbers.
Colorado Rapids' striker Deshorn Brown matched his rookie scoring tally with 10 goals in 2014, but he will miss the postseason. So, too, the San Jose Earthquakes pair of midfielder Khari Stephenson and defender Shaun Francis.
Yet, there were mixed fortunes even for Jamaicans whose clubs made it to the MLS play-offs.
Watson, the creative midfielder who also played at full back, scored four goals in 31 appearances - 29 starts. However, striker Darren Mattocks managed just six goals in 30 games - 20 starts - for Vancouver Whitecaps. While that doubled his scoring output from 2013, it was still lower than his rookie season in 2012, when he scored seven times in 21 appearances.
Overall, according to Ralph, while the majority of MLS clubs with Jamaicans stumbled in 2014, some Boyz - pointing particularly to clients Watson, Deshorn Brown and Powell - enjoyed individual productive seasons.
"There has been a lot of positives for Jamaicans," he said.
Just not enough to get most of the teams they represent to the play-offs.